Water Polo will be hotly contested at Tokyo 2020 with the addition of two women's teams. (Photo: Water Polo Australia)

One of the oldest Olympic sports, water polo will be strengthened at Tokyo 2020 with the addition of two nation's women's teams for this year's Games.

There will be two medals up for grabs in water polo this year, with both men’s and women’s events at Tokyo 2020. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Water polo has been part of the Olympic Games since the start of the last century, making its debut in the second-ever Olympiad in 1900. While it would come back to the program as a demonstration sport four years later, and has been a mainstay on the Olympic program since 1908, making it one of the oldest sports at the Games.

Australia’s foray into water polo at the Olympics began in 1948 when a men’s team was sent to London whereas the Australian women’s team, had to wait until Sydney in 2000 – the year women’s water polo was first included in the Olympics.

The Australian women’s water polo team celebrates achieving gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. (Photo: Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT)

The game

Water polo consists of two seven-person teams who compete through four eight-minute periods. To score, players must throw the ball into their team’s 3m wide by 0.9m high goal which floats on the surface at one end of the pool.

Players move around the pool’s 30m by 20m playing area by using an action called eggbeater, a more efficient method to the regular treading water and lift their body upright above the surface to pass and shoot.

During the game, players may move the ball either by throwing it to a teammate or pushing it forward, only using one hand and must make a shot on goal within 30 seconds of an attack, otherwise possession is lost.

Players are unable to touch the bottom of the pool in any active part of the game, except for the goalkeeper in a four-metre area, otherwise a foul is given against the offending team. Fouls for different levels of severity of punishment are also adjudged by the referee.

In 2020 for the Tokyo Olympic Games, rule changes have been enforced in an effort to speed up the game, using measures such as reducing the size of the playing area and enforcing a shorter time allowed in possession.

The format

At this year’s Olympic Games, water polo will see an increase of two teams for the women’s competition (up from eight at Rio 2016) whereas the men’s side of the tournament will remain at the same number of teams as at Rio in 2016 with 12.

On each side of the draw, the women’s and men’s competitions are split into two pools. The top four teams in each group proceed to their respective knockout stages and progress through quarter-finals and semi-finals before the final bronze and gold medal games.

The men’s water polo grouping at Tokyo 2020

Pool APool B
South AfricaAustralia
United StatesCroatia

The women’s water polo grouping at Tokyo 2020

Pool APool B
AustraliaRussian Olympic Committee
South AfricaJapan
SpainUnited States

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The records – men

Hungary is the favourite at Tokyo 2020, dominating at the Olympic Games with 15 medals from 22 Olympiads the Hungarians have participated in that includes nine gold, three silver and three bronze. Three of Hungary’s gold medals were won consecutively from 2000 to 2008.

Italy is the next best nation in terms of total medals with eight (three gold, two silver and three bronze) whereas Great Britain has the next best gold medals to Hungary, winning four.

At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Serbia won its first gold medal of its Olympic journey, adding to its two previous bronze medals. Croatia was runners-up to claim silver while Italy beat Montenegro for bronze.

Croatia has made it to the gold medal game at the last two Olympiads, while Serbia has finished in the top three at the conclusion at the event through the past three games (four if including Serbia and Montenegro’s 2004 silver).

The records – women

The United States is firming as the favourites for Tokyo 2020, claiming a medal at each of the five Olympic Games where women’s water polo has been played. It includes two golds in the two most recent Olympiads, adding silver in 2000 and 2008 and bronze in 2004.

There have been three other winners of gold at the Olympics – Australia in 2000, Italy in 2004 and the Netherlands in 2008.

Australia is the next best medalling country with three – gold in 2000 and bronze in 2008 and 2012. Hungary has been the unluckiest to miss out on a medal, placing fourth at the last three Olympic Games.

Australia’s chances

Currently ranked ninth in the world based on total points, Australia’s men’s water polo team, nicknamed the Sharks has appeared at 16 Olympics, their first time at the Games being in 1948.

Out of those 16 occasions, the Sharks have advanced beyond the group stages twice – at the 1984 Malibu Olympic Games, finishing fifth and most recently at the 2012 London Olympic Games where they made the quarter-finals and finished seventh overall.

Australia has finished inside the top four at the World Aquatics Championships in 1998 and since 2001 has placed within the top 10 at the tournament, with a sixth-place finish its best result since 1998. At the 2018 FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup, Australia came away with a silver medal, runners-up to Hungary. At the FINA Water Polo World League, the Sharks have finished with a bronze medal three times, most recently in 2019.

The Aussie Sharks (men’s) Team

Richard Campbell4th (20098, 2012, 2016)
Joel Dennerley3rd (2012, 2016)
Blake EdwardsDebut
Lachlan EdwardsDebut
Andrew FordDebut
George Ford2nd (2016)
Rhys Howden4th (2008, 2012, 2016)
Anthony HrysanthosDebut
Nathan PowerDebut
Timothy PuttDebut
Aidan Roach3rd (2012, 2016)
Aaron Younger3rd (2012, 2016)

The Australian women’s water polo team is currently ranked fifth in the world on total points, nicknamed the Stingers, has appeared in five Olympiads, ever since its induction at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

The Stingers’ best result at an Olympics was a gold medal at their home Games in 2000, and since then have won another two medals – bronze in 2008 and 2012. In the other two instances, at Athens in 2004 they finished fourth however had their lowest placing at Rio in 2016, finishing sixth.

At the World Aquatics Championship, Australia won in 1986 and has won four more medals since – silver in 2007 and 2013 and bronze in 1998 and the most recent event, 2019. The Stingers are one the most decorated teams at the FINA Women’s Water Polo World Cup, winning an equal-most 12 medals that includes three gold. At the 2018 event, Australia finished in third place after gold in 2006 and silver in 2010 and 2014.

The Aussie Stingers (women’s) Team

Abby AndrewsDebut
Zoe Arancini2nd (2016)
Ellie ArmitDebut
Hannah Buckling2nd (2016)
Keesja Gofers2nd (2016)
Bronte HalliganDebut
Matilda KearnsDebut
Bronwen Knox4th (2008, 2012, 2016)
Lena MihailovicDebut
Gabriella PalmDebut
Amy RidgeDebut
Rowena Webster3rd (2012, 2016)
Lea Yanitsas2nd (2016)

Water Polo commences at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre from July 24. The quarter-finals start on August 3, before the semi-finals begin on August 5. The women’s medal games will take place on August 7 while the men’s medal games are a day later on August 8.

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