New Rules, And If Necessary, A New Sport
Interview with Faragó Tamás, Olympic Champion

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Tamás Faragó (born August 5, 1952 in Budapest) is a former water polo water player from Hungary, who competed for his native country in three consecutive Summer Olympics, starting in 1972.

During his playing career, he won a total number of two European titles (1974 and 1977) and three Olympic medals (1972, 1976, and 1980). After his active career he became a water polo coach, including guiding the Hungarian Womens’ National Team for several years. Tamas currently runs Vodafone Pólósuli Water Polo School and works with under 14 aged kids at Club Vasas.

Courtesy of Hungarian Water Polo Federation

He used to be the best player in the world. He is still a legend. He says that he has a future, not a past. He doesn’t speak about his very successful playing career. Moreover, he considers his coach career closed. He is working as a sport manager. Operation of Vodafone Water Polo School together with Gábor Csapó, and the management of Vasas, fills his days. He has been fighting passionately to reform water polo for 25 years. Complaints about the game flow from him, but he is still optimistic regarding the future of water polo. His opinion about international control of water polo is strong.

Tama Farago PlayerAre there still Tamás Faragó fan clubs in Montreal?

In my opinion there aren't any, although it was interesting when I was there at the world championships with our women’s national team, our host talked about it. I always say that I have no past, only a future. So I don't have to remember myself. If there are people, that remember me, it was worth it. If there aren't any memories [of me], there is no need to speak about how I shot or what kind of trick I did in the past.

The end of your player career is a point in time when you closed a period and since then, no nostalgia and no “public meetings”. In your inner world, during your days, what does this “world’s best player” status mean?

I really closed this period. I can’t feel nostalgia and I don’t preserve memories. If something should be promoted, because someone is curious, it’s better to ask Dudi or Kenéz, they remember everything. I think that I closed my player career silently. I am grateful to have had this destination. For me, choosing this sport was already great luck. I am lucky that I was able to meet so many people in the swimming pools and I learned so much from all of them.

You gave short shrift about your player career. I don't like it, but I respect it. You are now involved in team management. Let's start with the end of your coaching career: don’t you miss the excitement of the match and the other connections to the game? Is there any part of that similar to the management of a first class men team?

Honestly, I don't miss it. As a player career has an exact time, so does a coach career.

You are a young man...

Yes. Despite this, I now live in my manager period and I am perfectly satisfied with my role. Regarding my coach career, I think that I finally understood and accepted the wisdom that the world is fair even if not everybody can play water polo well. What kind of chaos would there be if everyone could throw the ball perfectly! In the beginning I believed that there were great differences between coaches and that I would demonstrate it. Later on, with experience, I had to revise my thinking, and now my definite opinion is that the players form the coach. This doesn’t mean that there is any of bitterness in me. However, I am rather sorry that I have been able to pass on so little of my experience and knowledge. After 30 years of (coaching) experience, very few have learned anything from me.

No way. Do I have to visit the players you trained?

Well, this is simplified, but there is some truth in it. Unfortunately, life is such that most people have never learned from their experiences. I think that I am in the best place currently, because 10-14 year old children have angelic natures. They can’t imagine that most of what they plan won’t actually happen. And I really like that! Here more attention is paid to people, which is sympathic in itself. Perhaps this does not last as long as this in the other parts of the world.

I have visited the United States every year for 10-12 years and held clinics. I don’t know for certain, but perhaps it is the American snobbery that causes them to have a great respect for the instruction from a star. For whatever reason, the fact is that what I say in clinics in America has been viewed as fact. So if I told them just one time that you have to pick up the ball that way, then everyone would pick up the ball that way from Florida to California. Here (in Hungary) you can talk in vain :-) In a championship final, you can see that our star players are picking up the ball that way that children are banned from doing.

Just for the readers I say that these are not the words of a bitter man. Tonó practically cannot even speak because laughing. What was the most beautiful moment during your coach career?

I mainly think of myself as a tutor, not a coach. If someone is such an extrovert type of person, like me, it is important to show and hand over what he knows. It is a pleasure when I get feedback and if I can see that what I handed over was useful. If I look at someone and what they are doing looks nice, then it was all right.

Is this kind of success enough for the person who has got used to different kinds of success? To victories and victory ceremonies?

I wanted to prove that good players can become good trainers. In fact this is the opposite of the general opinion. And I thought and I still think that I know something about water polo.

Don't you have ambitions to return and manage a team?

I don’t. I am perfect father of the triplets.

You referred to this when you retired from coaching.

Exactly. And I thought that if I would have any ambitions regarding water polo or other areas of life, it would be really difficult to do it all together. Thank god, I am at the right place.

What do you do during your weekdays? What are your regular programs?

The regular activity is Vodafone Pólósuli, so the water polo school is what I do together with Dudi. This is a two-three hour per day occupation. After this I am the director of Vasas youth teams. Here I take the opportunity to boast: regarding three different age groups we won two championships. This means that this way of thinking, this kind of common concept, which I think is very important at Vasas, not only in effectiveness, but also in playing style, has produced this success.

You are president of the professional cabinet at the Federation. What does this group do? How effective is the work of it? Who are the members?

Actually everybody who wants to make something for the water polo can belong. Primarily, it is composed of the current OB-1 coaches and other selected persons, but everyone is welcome. In fact, this is a forum that tries to make useful recommendations to the Federation regarding any question related to water polo. Of course we have only a right of proposal, we are not a decision making body.

According to this we organize training, we give advice to novice coaches, and provide guidance for starting clubs so that they can quickly catch up to the best teams. We are engaged in professional questions. The coaches can talk about these question among themselves. Maybe they wouldn’t share their thoughts with others, but among us this is natural. I think we can bask in the success what Dénes Kemény has created for us. This also applies to everybody who enters or plans to enter to a swimming pool. Recently, more and more, because we care so much for the future of water polo, we work to try to save the sport.

Before we come to this point I would like to ask you how do you see the status of national [Hungarian] water polo?

Tama Farago CoachI have to say that the past results of the national water polo team are something we can be proud of. Hungarian water polo has always played a leading role in the world. This not only means that we were successful, but we could determine the direction of the development of the sport.
Unfortunately, in spite of our successes, our ability to play a leading role hasn’t been true for a long time. The national team is still very-very good, but there are serious problems. The primary evidence for this is the declining popularity of a sport, something that can be measured by the number of players and spectators. Although the number of players is increasing, the number of spectators is dramatically decreasing. If this problem cannot be solved within a short time we will have serious problems.

I have been talking continuously like a parrot for 25 years, that the current situation cannot continue, the whole sport has to be reformed. One of the biggest problems is that during the 120 years history of water polo there has not been a single intelligent person in the main leadership. The “key management” always make rules. Unfortunately, these “key managers” try to make them more complicated, mainly in order to make themselves increasingly important.

All this happens in FINA and LEN, two organizations that are nothing else but a Kafka concept. We fear them, but in fact we have no idea who they are. We could do these things ourselves by playing the [Hungarian] championship according to our own ideas. We would find out which rules work and even if we can’t influence the development of the game, we could take serious the case of saving water polo in Hungary.

Why do we have to save water polo? What is the reason that this sport is behind the other ball team sports regarding show or media coverage even in Hungary where it has a great tradition?

We can argue all we want about how “good” and interesting sport water polo is. If it is played under ideal circumstances, it is unquestionably an aesthetic experience, but this is not the normal case. The sun is shining, the water is blue, and the spectators can watch the matches in swimsuits. This last point may be the most important. In most cases, this is a seasonal sport, which can be played outdoors in the sunshine only during three months (plus or minus one month). This is a fundamental fact: water polo should be played during summer. And just a side note: during this period, every sport televisions scratch themselves, because there is nothing to be broadcasted. They could broadcast water polo every day!

How radical could be the change of rules?

Let me tell you a few things off the top of my head.
For example, the water polo goal was invented in 1880s. Since then the average height of people living in Europe increased by 17 centimeters. The goal has the same height as 130 years ago and nobody thought about changing it?

Or let’s see the size of the ball. It isn’t suitable for 80 percent of water polo players. It is only ideal for 20 percent. The ball is so big that 80 percent cannot take it into hand. Why don’t we create a ball for that 80 percent?

Two-thirds of the match time is swimming from one side to other. The Varga brothers, Kásás, and Benedek can be any kind of genious, nobody cares about them while they are swimming. But when they take the ball, the game becomes interesting. And so on.

The rules of water polo are set down from above. But if anyone has ever seen the rulebook knows that one rule is explained in ten sentences, so something is wrong.

What does the expression mean that a team has “good defense?” From the point of view of those who love water polo, this is irrelevant. This is not football or hockey, when there is action when somebody defends well. Internazionale can be watched for its defense, or an NHL match can be exciting if there are only two goals, but in water polo, if a team has a good defense, that means nothing happens Nothing! But let me ask something: who benefits from Papesz Molnár or Peti Biros being held down by a noname defensive player? To whom is this good and why? Why is it good to give two or three contra fouls against Papesz Molnár or Peti Biros during a match? This is an issue that must be changed. It is essential that a principal decision come from the management of the federation so that referees will whistle an attacking game.

Or another topic: why is it useful that instead of 13, 15, or even 18 players can play in a match. It should be obvious that the spectators would like to see the best players not the reserves. I don’t want to the hurt substitute players, but a spectator doesn’t go to watch a match because of them. They go to watch the stars. It should be obvious to everybody that 8:7 matches should be 18:17 matches in order to make the sport stay alive. Whatever kings Benedek, Kásás, or Varga brothers are, if they score only two or three goals, they cannot be stars. But if they score six or eight times, everyone notices. So the possibility should be created so that these stars can score six goals, not be limited to by the rules to only two.

Are stars so important in this team sport? Does the future of the sport depend on them? (Of course, my question is pseudo-naive.)

As a sport manager and coach, all of my opinions originate from one simple fact: I really like talent. I understand and frankly support everyone, but I simply like talent.


Probably because I imagine myself in that situation, on the other hand I think this is what the future entails. Nowadays I am still the kind of fan who is curious about the personalities. I go out to watch Barcelona, and am honored if I am invited. I used to watch Barcelona when Cruyff and Neeskens were the first two foreign players. Even then I went out to watch because of them, not because of Barcelona. I’m amazed by the stars. I would like to see closely what they look like, how many ears they have, what do they do “live.” And I’m not the only one, in my opinion most of the fans are like this.

Returning to the effort of changing the rules, it simply cannot be understood what blocks [positive] changes supported by unanimous decisions within our own country.

The biggest problem is that no professional [within Hungary] can comment against the work of international leadership, who make decisions about the rules. Only a specialist can comment on the work. Because of this, I think that we shouldn’t try to get involved.

The media and public opinion should be heard, let them help to find out how should it go. In my opinion if the Americans and the Australians would be given more scope and opportunity, as they see the world differently, in many ways they could help us.

Remember, thirty years ago, only the Bulgarians and the Russians played volleyball. Then a professional man became the head of international association and made the sport to catch up behind football.

What you have told us here, including your suggestions to professionals, are not unfamiliar to me. I’ve heard it from Dénes, from Tibi Benedek, from Kása, and from Dani Varga. In fact I can see that anyone who matters in this sport agrees in the most important things, especially in that it is a summer sport and show is important. This is evident among those who I talked about. I have never heard any different opinion or argument. Why can’t you unite each other? From the bottom, by the support of media, involving the greatest stars?

We initiate the process of change continuously. I have been talking about these things for 25 years, I am almost bored by myself. Hand in hand with the Americans, from Bruce Wigo, through Estiarte, Milanovics, and Campagna, we wrote several letters. We were brushed aside.


Yes, we have been brushed aside both by LEN and FINA. Mainly because people working there are afraid of their positions and they are really not interested in anything else than what the dinner will be. This is a complete mess. And meanwhile we are cowards. As I told you, we are fighting with a Kafka concept, we fear them, we imagine that LEN is a strong power, however we don’t exactly know who they are. I can seriously say the LEN is like Hungarian football: so many people live very well from it, that nobody wants to change. And this is the biggest problem. As long as it persists, the future of water polo is in the same struggle as the struggle of Hungarian football.

I do not know the rules of LEN, but I suppose that there is a possibility that if 862 thousand people request a meeting to be convened, it would be possible to change the leadership.

It has nothing to do with the whole thing. In fact, the roles distributed among themselves can only be changed among them. In many ways, this is a “socialist” carry-over. If it were up to me, I would replace them all. But we haven’t got to that point yet, because nobody wants to make trouble. But I think that conflict-free behavior is associated with high stress. We live in it right now.

To be honest, when I rack my brain, one thing that can be considered is that a new sport has to be created. This new sport would not be called water polo. Instead, it would be called something different. Perhaps it would only work this way.

The first water polo match was played in America, in the New York Athletic Club. Actually, there were only three rules: punching, kicking, and getting out of the water were not allowed. High above, a man was sitting in a high chair, like in tennis. He was watching to prevent brutality.

Now I am thinking that a new sport could be created in the 21st century, which would be a modern form of wrestling played with two goals. This would be a sport that would require great skills. To do this requires great consideration in what direction to start, in the direction of basketball, or rugby, or wrestling. For me that would be the best: if we could invent a very new sport. A sport that is like water polo. I would say: pseudo-water polo. It is played in water, with ball.

Tama Farago and Hungry CoachNew sport in 2010?

Why not? Think about it: only our narrow-minds have obstructed a lot of things. Let’s take pentathlon. Everyone knew that the horse should have been replaced with bicycle. If they had done it, not triathlon but pentathlon would be one of the most popular sports in the world. Instead we have a dying sport. So now pentathletes can only say that it’s a shame that this idea had not been implemented at that time. About 25 years ago I handed in a proposal to LEN that the field would have to be 25 meters long. Do you know what they said? They said that it could not be such a short course because there would be less space for advertisements! That’s their minds, that’s all they could bring out of themselves!

It is solely convenience that we must always say “LEN does not allow”. What does it mean not allow? Why should we apply for permission? It is said that it cannot work, because if you play in a smaller field, players would feel uncomfortable in international matches. Well, is it a problem for the American and Canadian basketball players or ice hockey players that the field size is different? They say that American professional league is a business venture for them and such and such field is ideal for the championship.

But this is Catch-22. In order for this sport to be valuable in business, interest from the media and public is necessary. But you can only achieve this kind of value when the system is already working. But you cannot create the system without favorable interest.

We are interested in trying these imaginary rules together with Sport 1 television under the name alternative water polo. Now that we have been talking about it for three decades, it’s time to see how these things looks on the screen. Perhaps this is the most important. If what we imagine doesn’t work on television, then it’s time to forget it and we have to try something else. We cannot forget that 85 percent of Hungarian people have never seen water polo match live. We should solicit the opinions of the followers of the sport. And we should listen to the answers carefully. Why? Because is not the most important what Rudics, Faragó, or Dénes Kemény says, but those people who are watching their first ever water polo match live. Also, it is important to engage the media and television professionals who have a sense of how things should look on the screen. What do they say?

So where we are now? You are trying to create a new sport and, at the same time, trying to reform the old one?

Yes. We are trying to plant the seed hoping to find fertile ground. I say once again, that I have hope in the Americans, mainly because they think in a different way. They have conceptions how a sport can become popular. We Europeans should accept it. If we can accept this generously, if we do not insist on defining the direction we should take ourselves, but allow people who seem to have better, more popular ideas define it for us, for us, then something good can be created.

So you won't give up after 25 years?

No, I won’t.

Are you optimistic regarding the future of the Hungarian water polo?

What I am optimistic about is that as long as Den (Denis Kemeney) is the coach, the national team can make miracles. The head coach has a very special aura, anybody who gets to him, as if by magic, they become wise and understand what the task is and they are able to carry it out.
I also think that we have very strong team of professionals and we also have a number of talents. There will always be another Varga and as long as that happens, Hungarian water polo has a bright future. But how the sport will change - I don't know.

Thank you for the interview.

With different rules: Tamás Faragó would like to reach the following changes in rules:

  1. The schedule: make it a summer sport

    1. From 20th May to 20th Aug. The play off is one month with 10-12 matches;

    2. This is followed by EC, WC, World League, World Cup 1st-10th Nov

    3. This is followed by the Euroleague and LEN Trophy – March-April

  2. The game itself:

    1. bigger goal

    2. smaller ball

    3. 22-25 meters field

    4. 11 playewr (pro league)

    5. five personal faults to be excluded

    6. five field players instead of six

    7. no contra fault except for two hands, under water

    8. direct shot from 7 meters instead of 5 meters

    9. penalty throw from four meters instead of five meters



Tama Farago57 years old
Olympic champion (1976), Olympic silver (1972), Olympic bronze (1980)
World Champion (1973)
2x European champion (1975, 1977),
2x World championship silver medalist (1975, 1978)
9x Hungarian champion, 4x Hungarian Cup winner, 1x Italian Cup winner, 2x BEK-winner, 1x KEK-winner
1970 to 1980, and in 1984-85 he played 258 times in Hungarian national team.
He has veterinary degree and water polo coach degree.
As a coach his first team was Italian Arezano, then BVSC, Italian Florenzia, later Vasas were his teams (during this period red-blues won the Cup two times and finished in second place in championship two times).
He is operation Vodafone Pólósuli together with Gábor Csapó.  He controls the young teams of Vasas.
He used to be the coach of Hungarian young national team, which was followed by women's national team. The team became world champion in Montreal in 2005. (At the end of this year he was the coach of the year in Hungary.)

In 1993 he became a member of the Swimming Hall of Fame