What I Did on My Summer Vacation or Machiavelli Goes to Rome (TWPC Part 1)

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

In the United States, the sport of water polo is governed by a variety of organizations: USA Water Polo, NISCA (high schools), or the NCAA (colleges and universities), each of whom individually determines all aspects of the sport played under their sanction, including rules, interpretations, rosters, playing seasons and schedules. This has resulted in a panoply of different versions of water polo that is confusing to players, coaches, and spectators alike, and is often pointed to as a main contributing factor to the inability of most people to understand and follow the game which seemingly changes day to day.

While this conflict of governance seems normal to most of us, the United States is actually far different from the rest of the water polo world, where the sole governing body of water polo is the Fédération Internationale de Natation, most commonly known as FINA. Within the European community, regional (European) events are governed by the Ligue Europeenne De Natation, better known as LEN, which role can be equated to that of the USAWP in that it is a recognized governing body which governs the sport(s) across many different regions. Until 10 years ago, there was an analogous type of division between LEN and FINA that caused similar variances in the game and resulting in spectator confusion. These divisions have now totally disappeared due to the efforts of FINA Technical Water Polo President Gianni Lonzi of Italy who, via holding positions of power in both FINA and LEN and through sheer force of his passion and will, was able to close the gap. Through the tireless efforts of Mr. Lonzi, the game of water polo has become one of less physicality, more action, more goals, and better suited to players of superior speed, ball handling, and intelligence. Via Mr. Lonzi’s efforts, we in the (international) water polo world now enjoy a standard game that varies little from country to country, national to pro, local to international, within the European community.

How does this happen, we ask? WHY can’t water polo be like competitive swimming and diving, both ruled by the same governing body and fellow aquatic sports? To understand this, we need to go to the source and understand how the sport is governed internationally.
Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, FINA is the International Olympic Committee governing body for Aquatic sports that includes Swimming, Open Water Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, and Synchronized Swimming.

The FINA Constitution describes FINA’s objectives as follows:

The FINA membership meets roughly every 2 years in a regularly scheduled Congress, typically coinciding with the World Championships. Congresses are held to determine the direction the body would like to take. There are two types of normal or "ordinary" Congresses: General and Technical, and these are normally alternated. "Extraordinary" Congresses are also called-up from time to time, and deal with a specific topic or area of concern. An Extraordinary Congress was held with the 2009 World Championships to review the Masters swimming rules and the thorny swimsuit issue; there was also a General Congress at the 2009 World Championships.

Between Congress meetings of the entire membership, a smaller 22-member representative board, called the FINA Bureau, meets to act in a timely manner on items that cannot wait until the entire body can meet. The Bureau then elects the FINA Executive Officers.

Various committees and commission within FINA deal with the TECHNICAL oversight of individual disciplines. Only those persons, who are recognized experts in the respective sport, may be appointed members of a Committee. For example, the Technical Water Polo Committee should be comprised of former high-level coaches, referees, or players in the sport of water polo. One of the major responsibilities of the TWPC members is to evaluate and grade referees at Major international events that, in turn, determines which referees are placed on the “big” games, thus defining the game that FINA wants to see. As an illustration, one pair of referees who called 28 contra fouls in a game were not assigned to any further games during the event – FINA does NOT want to see a game of constant turnovers and no driving.

As a basic guideline, the FINA Bureau is composed of politicians and diplomats whose job is to interact with Federations and establish policy. The FINA Technical Committees are composed of experts in the individual sport who govern the technical aspects of the sport such as rules and interpretations. This division ensures that both political and diplomatic needs as well as the technical legislation is handled by experts within their chosen field: this is what prevents (for example) a synchronized swimming coach from dictating what is or is not a contra foul in water polo. It also prevents (for example), a former 2 meter forward from trying to act as velvet gloved diplomat when recruiting new nations to join the FINA family. Each Technical Committee has a “Bureau Liaison” who is both a technical expert in his or her sport as well as being adequately connected to the politics of the Bureau. This organizational structure was designed to provide a political and technical bridge to the entire FINA Bureau (whose members may not necessarily be technical experts in any of the sports). Via this bridge, proposals from an individual technical committee would move directly to approval.

Every 4 years, at the World Championships immediately following the Olympics, FINA meets in a FINA Congress to discuss and resolve current issues and to conduct elections. This quadrennial meeting has many ramifications for all the sports and this year was no exception. Having just returned from 18 days in Rome attending the 13th FINA World Championships, I thought I would take some time to share some of the changes that will affect our sport going forward.

Before beginning, I should explain that my knowledge of what follows was gleaned during 17 days sitting in the Roma09 Media center with fellow water polo journalists from all over the world. In the midst of Roma09, the biggest water polo media news was the election of the new FINA President and corresponding change in the Technical Committees that are appointed by the new president. These changes would have large ramifications for the sport moving forward for the next 10+ years. Most of the journalists had already done their homework, understood the players and the game and eagerly awaited the election news.

This year’s FINA Congress met on July 24th in Rome to elect the new president and passed few changes as follows (the biggest being the swim suit issue):

Prior to the actual election, political maneuvering and brokering produced a deal where electors understood that the 20 year incumbent FINA President, Mustapha Larfaoui, would officially retire and his replacement would be Dr. Julio Maglione of Uruguay. Dr. Maglione was expected to serve as a 4 year “interim” president, after which time he wished to move up to the IOC and be succeeded within FINA by current Italian Federation president and FINA Honorable Secretary Paolo Barelli. Mr. Barelli would remain as president for the full allotment of 8 years  (term limits were set in this congress). The election and general congress followed on July 24 with the expected results and Dr. Maglione’s Technical Committee appointments were due to be made and released to the media on July 28th.

Due to reportedly heated political wrangling behind the scenes, the technical appointments were delayed, and the technical committee nominations not released until this week.

According to the summary opinions of the water polo journalists, the politics all involved the position of the TWPC Chair. In a nutshell, a concerted effort was mounted to depose longtime TWPC Chair Gianni Lonzi and replace him with a new TWPC president. During the Machiavellian maneuvering, Mr. Lonzi retained his position but at the cost of several political compromises. It is these political compromises, with impact on the membership of the Technical Water Polo Committee, which could have major ramifications to the sport in the next 4-8 years.
Gianni Lonzi is not popular. In the process of moving the game from barely controlled thuggery to less physicality, more action, more goals (thus more attractive to the entire world), he has made a lot of enemies, particularly in Eastern Europe where the sport thrives. Despite this enmity, ALL factions throughout Europe agree that his love, passion, and tireless efforts on behalf of the sport is exactly what is needed and they would rather Mr. Lonzi than anyone else.

Old Technical Water Polo Committee NEW FINA Technical Water Polo Committee
Gianni Lonzi (ITA) Chairman Gianni Lonzi (ITA) Chairman
Khosrow Amini (IRI) Vice Chair Richard Foster (USA) Vice Chair
John Whitehouse (AUS) Honorable Secretary John Whitehouse (AUS) Honorable Secretary
Members Members
Farid El Allam (MAR) Khosrow Amini (IRI)
Tan Eng Bock (SIN) Evgeny Sharonov (RUS)
Dimitris Diathessopoulos (GRE) Nicolae Firoiu (GER)
Evgeny Sharonov (RUS) Boukezouha Badreddine (ALG)
Bill Frady (USA) Jorge Pagura (BRA)
Monica Brochero (ARG) William Shaw (CAN)
Nicolae Firoiu (GER) Andrey Kruykov (KAZ)
Luis Bestit (ESP) Manuel Ibern (ESP)
Eugenio Martinez (CUB) Haluk Toygarli (TUR)
  G.O. Martin (HUN)
  Aleksander Sostar (SRB)
  Mohie Wahid Farid (EGY)

The new FINA Technical Water Polo Committee By the Numbers:

As the international game moves forward over the next 4-8 years, I would like to hope that Mr Machiavelli returns home alone from his summer vacation in Rome.  I would like to hope that the new TWPC joins Mr. Lonzi in embracing the need for a game with less physicality, more action, more goals, and better suited to players of superior speed, ball handling, and intelligence. I would like to hope that the lip service given to the womens game includes an international summit of thoughtful, experienced female players, coaches and referees who can work to grow the female participation in the sport through knowledgeable, meaningful changes. I would like to hope that these changes will contribute toward a lessening of the factional divisions within the United States and give us one game, one interpretation and one great love for playing and watching the sport of water polo.