Are the New FINA Rules a Success?

Richard Hunkler, PhD
Water Polo Planet

Are the new FINA rules a success? In order to determine whether the new FINA rules are a success I would have to know what was the purpose or purposes of the new rules. Because purposes can give you a means of creating a measuring stick by which the rules can be judged. Consequently, I went to my old reliable research assistant, the internet, and I did a search for the purpose or purposes of the new FINA rules. In my search I used, “FINA water polo rules”, “new FINA water polo rules”, “new FINA water polo rules purpose” and several other key words. Also I used the following search engines in my plight to find the purpose or purposes of the new FINA rules: Answerbus, Aka Vista, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Google, Lycos, and Yahoo.

Under each of the key words I looked at about a 100 links from each search engine with the exception of Excite which displayed a total of 80 links. I found numerous listings of the new rules and several interpretations of the new rules but guess what? I didn’t find a single web page that explained the purpose or purposes of the new rules.It appears if the reasons for the new rules were created then they were never made public. The absence of public reasons for the new rules struck me as rather strange and sad at the same time. This almost stopped this article dead in the tracks of my computer key board until I remembered I only have a week to come up with an article for the Water Polo Planet. Besides I have wanted a chance to evaluate the new rules almost from their inception, but I wanted to give the new rules a chance to be used in game situations first. Thus I decided to create a few purposes of why I thought the new rules were created so that I could evaluate them.

Granted this is not as good as coming up with the purposes first and the rules second but it is going to have to do. Just think what this country would have been like if our founding fathers would have written the Constitution and then written reasons for writing it. Oops, I think that is what they might have done because wasn’t that the purpose of the Federalist Papers. No, no, because if you run a search on the “purposes of the Constitution” you find articles and books written by many of our founding fathers explaining their purposes for writing the Constitution. The Federalist Papers were more like today’s interpretation of the rules rather than like a treatise on the purposes of the new rules.

Let me turn to more mundane thoughts and give you what I think were the three purposes of the new water polo rules: 1) reduce the amount of physicality in the game; 2) make the game easier for spectators to understand and enjoy; and 3) make the game more dynamic, more lively. The first two purposes have been talked about so much in our sport I thought I had to include them and the third purpose I threw in to help the game be more exciting to both players and spectators.

If one of the purposes of the new rules is to “reduce the amount of physicality in the game” then it missed the bull’s eye by more than just the 5 seconds they took off the shot clock. It is hardly fair to the game or the players to say, “Yes the rules reduced the physicality. Well, at least it has been reduced by 5 seconds on each possession of the ball.” There was less physicality only because the players had less time to do it in. The 2 meter player and the 2 meter defender are still wrestling to get better position at the 2 meter line and again the only reason they are wrestling less is because there is less time for them to do it. Maybe we should change the time of possession from 30 seconds to 20 seconds next year? Then we would have 10 seconds less physicality on each ball possession during the game? Those 10 seconds would add up to a considerable amount time in which there was no physicality. Do this a couple of times and we will have succeeded in turning water polo into a swimming meet with a ball added.

Under the old rules when one committed a major foul against a player the player was given a 4 meter penalty shot which was scored 95% of the time. The new rules say a major foul is to be rewarded with a 5 meter penalty shot which is scored about 85% of the time. (The percentages are conservative guesstimates.) In other words the punishment for physicality and major fouls has been decreased rather than increased. That makes about as much sense as the farmer giving the neighbor’s child another apple every time he or she catches the child stealing an apple. This is especially true when the new rules are trying to decrease the amount of physicality in the game. Shouldn’t those who want to play physically and commit more major fouls be punished more rather than less? That is the way it worked at my house when my three sons lived there.

In all fairness to the new rules I would add that it was believed by some that because the 5 meter penalty shot was more difficult to make then more of them would be awarded by the referees. As far as I can tell the awarding of more penalty shots under the new rules has just not happened. But of course the TWPC has statistics of all these things so they can make an intelligent decision on whether to keep the new rules or not? If there are stats that show there have been more 5 meter penalty than 4 meter penalty shots awarded, then I will rethink my evaluation of this rule. I should also add that I have been told that because of the no two hands up rule the number of 6 on 5 goals and percentage of goals have increased.

Do you really think the second goal or purpose of “making the game easier for spectators to understand and enjoy” has been met? For example why are the 2 meter player and the 2 meter defender allowed to wrestle almost as much as they please and when two players on the perimeter try this one is given a free throw or even better one is given an ejection? Does that make sense to a spectator? Another example is the goal throw rule? Most athletes have been taught from the cradle to the present time that in sports when the ball is thrown out of bounds the team not touching the ball last gets the ball back.

There is an old joke that has a Captain asking his Sergeant to tell Private Jones his mother died. The Sergeant has the entire company fall in on the parade ground. The Sergeant then yells, “Attention! Private Jones take one step forward. Your mother just died.” Private Jones immediately faints. The Captain tells the Sergeant he or she has to have more tact when telling a Private a member of his or her family has died. When the Sergeant is told Private Smiths father dies, the Sergeant has the company fall in on the parade ground. The Sergeant then yells, “Attention! Everyone with a living father take one step forward. Not so fast Private Smith.” We could line up the representatives of most every sport in the world and ask them to step forward if after an out of bounds play in their sport the team that touches the ball last doesn’t gets the ball. We too would have to yell, “Not so fast water polo guy!”  

Most of the movement caused by the 30 second shot clock instead of the 35 second shot clock is in trying to hurry down the pool to have enough time to run a set offense. I really haven’t seen that many more counter attack goals than I did before the introduction of the new rules. However, I will have to admit that I have seen more players ‘driving under the new rules than I saw driving under the rules of the last four or five years.  Also it amazing to me to see the Eastern Europeans’ embraced all this swimming in the game. Because in the past they did their damedest to try and stop any rules that made swimming fast an advantage. They tried to avoid such rules because this would mean their good but slow players would have had to retire

Finally, I think we all want to see a game in which physicality is not the star but rather a game in which a player’s skill, intelligence, movement, conditioning, and dedication wins not only the game but also the hearts and minds of players, coaches, referees, and spectators. I really don’t believe the new rules have accomplished the purposes or the goals that I stated earlier. I think the new rules were a valiant attempt to try to meet the purposes or the goals I stated but I believe they have fallen short. I truly believe that creating rules and then creating the purpose for the rules is not the way to save water polo. Like my Daddy used to tell me, “If you don’t know where you are going then when you get there how will you know you are there!

(Concurrently with the posting of this article a topic called, “Are the New FINA Rules a Success?” will be placed on the "New News and Posts " thread of the WPP message board. Thus, you too will be able to post your thoughts on the successes and failures of the new FINA rules.)

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]