Europe demonstrated its readiness to lift water polo into new dimensions
Europe is ready to offer the experience, knowledge and any other tool required to widen the global basis of water polo and to transform it to a highly successful discipline. At the LEN Water Polo Meeting in Ostia (ITA), representatives of 20 nations agreed that changing the technical rules was not among the primary targets, the main issue was to think together how top level water polo could become more attractive for the TV viewers and the fans and how the sport could be developed in areas where grassroots were weak or didn’t exist at all.
“It did worth coming together as several experts of the most successful continent assessed the current state of water polo and we witnessed some really valuable presentations as well as heard instructive advises” LEN President Paolo Barelli said after the two-day session. “While Europe is playing a pivotal role in this sport and our events have been absolutely outstanding by all means in recent years, we are aware that there is room for improvement and we also feel our responsibility to spread and develop water polo to make it be present in all continents.”
400,000 matches annually all over our continent, almost 800 world-class clashes in the various top meets, European Championships every two years, age-group Europeans every year, the world’s leading club competition – just a couple of examples from the LEN President’s opening remarks which highlighted Europe’s leading role in the world of water polo.
Attendees all agreed that LEN delivered something special by creating the newly shaped Champions League which became a fine example of how water polo could become a highly appreciated product in the sport market. The last edition of the European Championships in Belgrade set a new world record for single-game attendance (18,473 spectators watched the final on site) and Budapest also sent a strong message on the health of water polo while hosting a brilliant Champions League Final Six tournament then the FINA World Championships last summer.
According to the experts, these recent showcases demonstrated that the rules did not require any revolutionary change and water polo and success are walking hand in hand if there is quality TV coverage, the respective organisers do care of the tiniest details and put in all efforts to promote the event.
Lecturers following water polo from the outside, like Franck Choquard, Head of Products and Marketing at Eurovision Media Services, showed several new ways to ensure better promotion for water polo and to engage more and more fans. “EBU is also committed to help the clubs and the federations and we are constantly working on creating new tools to engage more fans not only through the usual broadcasts in the TV but also through the social media platforms” Mr. Choquard said.
In his message, AIPS Chairman Gianni Merlo also advised the water polo community to devote more attention to create new icons as well as make the game more understandable for the new fans.
Coaching legend Ratko Rudic, representing the World Water Polo Coaches Association, insisted on making water polo an even more dynamic sport as he saw this the only way to keep up with the others and gain enough attention. The majority agreed that exploring new ways to sell the sport in order to have more resources had paramount importance. Investment, hard work and professional approach are required to increase the popularity of the sport and LEN and the European water polo family are ready to offer everything to FINA and the other continents to widen the basis of the sport.
Ongoing talks with top FINA water polo officials set up a possible merge of LEN’s brand new competition for national teams, the Europa Cup and the continental World League qualifiers. From next year the Cup, which can involve much more teams and insure TV exposure, might also serve as the qualification series for the FINA World League Super Finals. LEN plans to take another brave new step by launching the U15 European Championships in the coming years. A proposed LEN calendar until 2020 was also presented at the meeting and the aim to have all dates known well in advance was warmly welcomed by the federations.
The two days in Ostia saw really constructive sessions where all participants offered its contribution by sharing his or her views on the topics in the agenda. “More than twenty nations came together from the leading continent and really put in all efforts to envision a better and more attractive water polo for the future” Paolo Barelli said. “But making this sport more enjoyable is just one part. We really have to work a lot to make water polo a global sport. Europe has everything in hand and the continent is ready to offer whatever needed to assist FINA in building and implementing a great development programme in water polo.”
Since a FINA Water Polo Referee School was held parallel in Ostia, the LEN President took the occasion to meet FINA Bureau Liaison Andriy Kryukov, TWPC Vice-Chairman Mark Koganov and Secretary Wim Keman in the company of LEN Executive Director Gianni Minervini, Operation Manager Marco Birri and LEN TWPC Chairman Gianni Lonzi. “It was a very positive exchange of thoughts on harmonising the competition calendars and there is a common thinking on finding the best ways to strengthen water polo and to transform into a universal sport” Mr. Barelli added.
Back to the LEN meeting, in his closing remarks President Barelli announced that two commissions would be formed, one is to shape a common European vision on the future development and marketing strategies and another one is to determine the continent’s viewpoint on the possible rule changes.