Eight national teams (which include a host nation place plus picked from the top teams of a selection from top international tournaments) qualify for the women’s water polo competition at the Olympic Games, while 12 national teams qualify for the men’s competition.
In the men’s competition, the 12 teams are divided into two groups of six, with each team playing every rival squad. The top four teams from each group advance to the quarter-finals, with four quarter-final match winners advancing to the semi-finals. The two semi-final match winners play another match for gold and silver, while the two losing teams fight for the bronze.
In the women’s competition, the eight teams all play each other in one big group, with the top four progressing to quarter-final and semi-final playoffs like in the men’s tournament to determine who gets gold, silver and bronze.
Field of Play
Men’s water polo is played in a pool 30m long and 20m wide and women’s water polo is played in a pool 25m long and 20m wide both with a minimum depth of at least 1.8 metres and preferred depth of two metres. The goal posts are placed at both ends of the pool. They each have an opening three metres wide, 0.9 m above the water surface.
Distinctive marks of different colours are placed at each end of the field of play to denote the following: white (goal line and half distance line); red (2 metres from goal lines); yellow (5 metres from goal line). From the 5 metres line to the half distance line is marked in green. The green cone is the 7 m mark: a player awarded a foul 7 m from the goal line may shoot directly without having to pass the ball. The 5m mark is the spot from which a player executes a penalty and goal throws. The red 2 m line marks the spot where corner throws are taken or free and neutral throws are awarded if the foul is committed within the 2 metre area.
Unlike soccer, whenever the referee whistles, the clock and play both stop.
At the start of each period, players line up on their goal line and the ball is released from a special float in the centre of the pool. The first swimmer to reach the ball gains control for his team, making it the offensive side.
That team then has 30 35 seconds to score a goal. If no goal is scored, the defending side gets the ball and is allowed to go on the attack. Once a goal has been scored, players go to their ends of the pool and the team that has conceded the goal puts the ball back into play.
Only the goalie can touch or hold the ball with both hands, but a goal can be scored by any part of the body apart from the clenched fist.
Each team is allowed two one-minute timeouts in any game. An additional timeout including any timeouts not utilised may be requested should the game go into extra time. Should the scores be level at full time in any game for which a definite result is required, any continuation into extra time shall be after an interval of five minutes. There shall then be played two periods each of three minutes actual play with an interval of two minutes for the teams to change ends. If at the end of the two periods of extra time the score is equal, there shall be a penalty shoot out to determine the result.
Two referees on either side of the pool have absolute control of the game, adjudicate the matches, using hand signals and their whistles to indicate their decisions and control the players and have the power to abandon the game at any time. There are also two goal judges on the goal lines; timekeepers who keep track of the amount of time that teams are in possession of the ball, timeouts, interval periods and exclusion times of players ordered out of the water; and secretaries who maintain a record of the game, control the period of exclusion and sinal fouls and improper re-entries with a red flag.
Fouls, Offsides and Penalties
If a defender is the last player to touch the ball before it goes out of play behind his team’s goal line, then the attacking team has the chance to take a corner.
There are 4 kinds of foul, Ordinary fouls, Exclusion fouls, Penalty fouls and Personal fouls, each bearing different kinds of punishments. A penalty is awarded when a defending player commits a foul in the five metre zone.
Ordinary fouls include using the floor or side of the pool to gain an advantage, holding the ball underwater, impeding rivals physically, being offside in the two-metre zone, striking at the ball with a clenched fist or holding the ball with two hands for players other than the goalkeeper. Exclusion fouls include; leaving the water; interfering with free, goal and corner throws; attempting to block the ball with 2 hands, intentionally splashing an opponent; holding, sinking or pulling an opponent without the ball; kicking or striking an opponent. A personal foul is recorded against a player who commits and exclusion or penalty foul. A player receiving 3 Personal fouls will be excluded from the remainder of the game.