An Interview with British National Team Players: Angela Winstanley Smith anf Edward Scott

Trevor Freeman.
Water Polo Planet
03/15/14

We take a break from the NCAA scene this month to travel to the country that gave us Pink Floyd, The Beatles and fish and chips to discuss a situation that affects not only the Great Britain Women's Water Polo program but also our sport in general.  Recently a decision was made to cut funding for the Great Britain women.  This is despite a steady improvement that anyone with two eyes can see. We all need to be concerned and help. For if our sport can be defunded by a country with a stronger economy and a rising squad, it can happen anywhere. 

We consider ourselves to be a truly global water polo website and were fortunate enough to connect with two longtime members of Great Britain's Men's and Women's Senior National teams to discuss British polo.  Those players are Angela Smith and Edward Scott.  Below is our interview.

Interview with Angela Winstanley Smith

Angela SmithCan you tell me about the recent funding cuts to Great Britain's water polo program in terms of both the scope and the effect it is already having?

At the present time we are all currently in limbo. The appeal takes place tomorrow, so I guess we are all waiting to see what will happen. We really don't know what will happen if the funding, or some funding isn't reinstated. We have qualified for the European Champs in summer, but without funding any kind of preparation will be impossible. One thing for sure, without the funding our individual plans will change. I guess some can continue playing professionally across Europe, and those who return to the UK will start to look for solutions in balancing full time careers/ study with training.

Water Polo Planet boasts readers from across the globe as it is the most widely read water polo only site on the Internet. If our readers wanted to express dissatisfaction with the funding decision, how could they do that in a constructive fashion?

The best way to do that would be by signing our epetition which can be found here; http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60282 using Manchester Aquatics Centre, 2 Booth Street East, Manchester, M13 9SS.

I have also written a blog about our journey which is www.ilovewaterpolo.wordpress.com.  We have been using social media as a way to get more support, with twitter being GB_Wpolo_Girls and SaveWomensWP so any extra followers and retweets helps our cause. You can find us on Facebook at Great Britain Women's Waterpolo team, and Save Women's Waterpolo.

If you are a UK reader then contacting your local MP to highlight our plight, and the general plight of team sports could help future appeal processes.

The NCAA system in the United States boasts a number of Junior and Senior National team players from across the globe. On the men's side, the most recent Cutino Award winner was Pacific's Balazs Erdelyi who recently competed for Hungary in the World University Games. Our 2013 NCAA Men's Champion, USC, featured multiple players with Senior National team experience for countries such as Australia and Greece. Ditto for the women's side as the 2013 NCAA Women's champion, USC, boasted Hungary's starting Olympic team goalie along with National team players from Australia and Spain. There are a large number of British expatriates in cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, however I believe that recent Hawaii recruit Claire Nixon is the first high-level British player to enter our NCAA game. Has there been any thought in Great Britain to perhaps encouraging college aged Junior or Senior National team players to come across the pond?

When I was 19 I was seriously thinking about contacting American Universities and going to study over there, but went to Europe instead. I believe that although we can play professionally, it is also important to continue with studies as there will be at some point a life after polo! The American system is without a doubt a success across all sports. If you look at the USA Women’s results, they are consistently one of the best nations at every tournament. Claire is the first to look at this option, and I am sure, if the funding isn't reinstated; many, many more would like to take this route. If funding is reinstated I guess it will be under discretion of the management about how long we will be centralised before the Olympics. I think Claire joining the NCAA league shows that it is something the management have looked at and support. I wish I was 19 again going to University of Hawaii that’s for sure!

Angela SmithGreat Britain's squad has been on the ascent. You recently qualified for European Championships which is impressive. Prior to the 2012 Olympics, you also played the eventual Olympic Gold Medal United States team to a 7-6 game at the VISA Water Polo International. Can you let us know about how your team has progressed since the 2012 Games and where you think you can be by 2016?

The result against USA at the test event in May 2012 was really a good result showing how far we have come. We have come from 14th to 7th in Europe in 8 years, and just qualified for the second European Championships in a row. We also beat Greece 9-8 a month before their World title in 2011. We have shown we can be a good match for these teams, now we need experience in winning these close games. As you are aware Women's water polo is often very close with as many as ten national teams believing they have a shot at the titles. We have only been playing the 'top nations' since we entered World League in 2010. We did encounter teams at European qualifiers in the past, but having consistent high level games is relatively new for us. We now get invited to training camps and friendly tournaments, and had the funding to do so, which enabled us to improve and gain experience.

Since London 2012 our team has changed, like most national teams after an Olympic cycle, with 12 of the Olympic squad of 19 still playing. We also have several youngsters from the Junior National team who finished 8th at the World Junior Champs in Volos coming through. We have a brand new Performance Director and a whole new set of coaching and support staff. We performed ok at the World Championships with an interim coach in place and not so much preparation together. We played Russia in December in World League and held them until the end of the game eventually losing 12-9. 13 girls are abroad playing professionally across Europe, with the plan to be centralised from June 2014. I guess the Europeans were to be a great test to see how much we have progressed since the Games. It would have been the first time we would have had a block of training together with our new coach. I think if we were to be centralised from June 2014 with the amount of funding we had, we could make a lot more improvements towards qualifying for Rio. We would be together every day with Kostas (our coach) with great support staff around us competing in as many official games as possible.

We weren't going to be the only players benefiting from the funding. A whole development pathway was being put in place to try and make GB a force long term. This funding was to essentially revolutionize British polo.

In the case of the Great Britain women, cutting funding is especially cruel as the team seems to have really closed the gap on some of the traditional powers. What rationale were you given for cutting funding?

At the moment the rationale was that we are not a probable 5th - 8th finish for Rio 2016 and not a medal prospect for Tokyo 2020. The funding cut came as a surprise as it came only weeks after we qualified convincingly for the European Champs in Budapest this summer. We were given a target of 12th in Barcelona, where we ranked 13th. However there were no playoff games for 8th - 16th so we have a good case to rank inside those boundaries. There is a massive emphasis over here on performing better medal wise in Rio than London so I guess team sports have suffered from that strategy.

I guess we will find out more in the coming weeks after the Appeal to know exactly where we, and the future of our sport stands.

British Women's Team

Interview with Edward Scott

Edward ScottCan you tell me about the recent funding cuts to Great Britain's water polo program in terms of both the scope and the effect it is already having?

The men’s program suffered the same funding cut this time last year as the women have recently experienced. We were really shocked to hear about the cuts and the whole water polo community in Great Britain is behind the girls as they continue to raise awareness by using groups such as www.facebook.com/SaveWomensWP and signing the e-petition. 

The NCAA system in the United States boasts a number of Junior and Senior National team players from across the globe. On the men's side, the most recent Cutino Award winner was Pacific's Balazs Erdelyi who recently competed for Hungary in the World University Games. Our 2013 NCAA Men's Champion, USC, featured multiple players with Senior National team experience for countries such as Australia and Greece. Ditto for the women's side as the 2013 NCAA Women's champion, USC, boasted Hungary's starting Olympic team goalie along with National team players from Australia and Spain. There are a large number of British expatriates in cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, however I believe that recent Hawaii recruit Claire Nixon is the first high-level British player to enter our NCAA game. Has there been any thought in Great Britain to perhaps encouraging college aged Junior or Senior National team players to come across the pond?

I think a number of factors play into this. There’s no doubt that the American Collegiate system produces great players and boasts a very high level of competition. There would be British players who would love to go and play in the NCAAs, but I think the main reason why players do not go to the States to play is the very high cost of American university degrees compared to British fees. Until very recently, British universities charged £3,000 ($5,000) per year for every university degree, this is a huge difference to that seen in the USA in private universities (where the most prolific water polo teams are based). Athletic scholarships are of course available, but are few and far between. Furthermore, if a college coach is faced with the choice of giving a scholarship to a British player or a Hungarian player, I think I am right in saying that they will choose the Hungarian almost every time.

To make this more difficult, there are few/no contacts with American universities in the UK (with regards to water polo and the recruiting process) and there is no tradition of British players going to compete across the pond. 

I’m not sure about the answer to this problem. Having Claire Nixon out there is a great start, and I hope more players can follow in her footsteps. I also hope that now that we have more players having played in professional European leagues (that up until six or seven years ago was a rarity for British players), coaches will now start to take our players more seriously as potential recruits and we will see more players heading over to the States to play.

Edward ScottThe men's side at the 2012 Olympics was stacked and Great Britain had a tough early schedule. Can you tell us about your Olympic experience and what you learned from it?

The Olympic experience was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had the pleasure to be involved in. Each game we had was against world class opposition and was played in front of a 5,000-strong home crowd. Walking out to that roar for the first time is something I will never forget and playing in that environment is something that raised our whole team’s game considerably.

Water polo in Great Britain is not considered a big sport like it is in Eastern Europe and on the West Coast in the USA, and having that level of support in our own country was fantastic. 

All thirteen of us gained so much experience not just from the 2012 Games, but from the journey which led up to it. We all had the opportunity to compete in high level competitions and tournaments as part of years of preparation leading up to 2012. This has meant the players who were part of this process have a wealth of knowledge and it is now great to see some of these players re-investing their time into junior programs in the UK to share their experience, skills and knowledge to developing players. I hope that all of this continues to help water polo grow in the UK and for us to become stronger on the international scene.

Can you tell us about the overall pipeline of talent in the British water polo system on the men's side and how you feel the team's future prospects would be if fully funded?

The level of interest in water polo in Great Britain has certainly increased since the London games. We are seeing more and more youngsters taking up the sport which is fantastic news.

The Junior National team squads continue to compete in the European competitions and should produce some great young prospects for the future.

Since losing our funding last year, lots of changes were made in the set up of the Senior National team. Considering our much lower level of funding, we have had some fantastic results and performances owing much to the work done by the new coaching staff and management group to whom all of the players are very grateful.

British Men's Team

It’s hard to speak about "what ifs" and "would be’s” and the team is concentrated on performing to the best of its ability with whatever support we have. However, money is important and our management group and coaches continue to fight on our behalf to secure necessary funding to help run our program. It is currently hard to put concrete plans in place for developing the future of our sport due to doubts about funding. More money makes it easier to prepare for big competitions and also to invest in clubs and youth development. Without that we will continue to work at a disadvantage compared to our direct rivals. That aside, the players look to work hard with our current situation and I hope the good results and performances continue to come.