WATER POLO, a game which has done much to advanc swimming in popular favour and to improve the stamina swimmers. It is played either in a bath or open water, the teams consisting of seven a side. The field of play must not exceed 30 yds. or be less than 19 yds. in length, and the width must not be more than 20 yds. The ball used must be round and fully inflated, and must not measure less than 265, nor more than 28 in. in circumference. It must be waterproof, with no strapped seams outside, and no grease or other objectionable substance placed on it. The goals must be 10 ft. in width, with a cross-bar 3 ft. above the surface when the water is 5 ft. or over in depth, and 8 ft. from the bottom when the water is less than 5 ft. in depth; in no case must the water in which a game is played be less than 3 ft. Goal nets are used in all important matches. The duration of a match is supposed to be 14 minutes, seven minutes each way. The officials consist of a referee, a timekeeper and two goal scorers, the first-named official starting the game by throwing the ball into the centre of the bath. A goal is scored by the entire ball passing between the goal posts and under the cross-bar.
The players have to place themselves in a line with their respective goals, and are not allowed to start swimming to the centre of the bath until the word " Go " is given. They are usually divided into 3 forwards, I half-back, 2 backs and a goalkeeper. To the fastest swimmer is usually assigned the place of centre-forward, and it is his duty to make all headway possible so as to reach the ball before the opposing forward of the other side, then pass rapidly back to the half or one of the backs and swim on to within close proximity of the opponent's goal and wait for a pass. The other forwards should rapidly follow him up and each man carefully shadow one of the opposing side. In handling the ball only one hand may be used, for to touch the ball with both hands at the same time constitutes a foul, as also does the holding of the rail or the side, during any part of the game, the standing on or touching of the bottom of the bath except for the purpose of resting, interfering or impeding an opponent in any way, unless he be holding the ball, holding the ball under water when tackled, jumping from the bottom or pushing off from the side (except at starting or restarting) in order to play the ball or duck an opponent, holding, pulling back or pushing off from an opponent, turning on the back to kick at an opponent, assisting a player at the start or restart to get a good push off, throwing the ball at the goalkeeper from a free throw or refusing to play the ball at the command of the referee after a foul or the ball has been out of the field of play. Dribbling or striking the ball is held to be not holding, but lifting, carrying, pressing under water or placing the hand under or over the ball when actually touching, is holding; dribbling up the bath and through the posts is permissible. There is a penalty area, 4 yds. from each goal-post, and the imaginary line across the bath is not allowed to be passed by the respective goalkeepers, otherwise they commit a foul. They may stand to defend their goal, touch the ball with both hands or jump from the bottom to play the ball, but in all other respects the same rules as to fouls apply to them as to other players. In any case they are not allowed to throw the ball beyond half -distance. If they do so the opposing side is awarded a free throw. For fouls which the referee considers to have been committed wilfully there are very severe penalties, and those guilty of them are ordered out of the water until a goal has been scored, thus for the time being crippling the side. Deliberately wasting time, starting before the word " Go," taking up a position within 2 yds. of the opponent's goal, changing position after the whistle has blown for a free throw or other similar stoppage of play, or deliberately splashing an opponent in the face, are all held to be wilful fouls. Whenever the whistle blows for fouls the players have to remain in their respective places until the ball has left the hand of the player to whom the free throw was awarded. A player who has been wilfully fouled within 4 yds. of his opponent's goal line is given a penalty throw, and the consequence is that a close match is often won by reason of a player deliberately breaking the rules when his goal is hotly assailed. In ordinary fouls the ball must touch another player before a goal can be scored, but in penalty throws it need not. Any player throwing the ball over his own goal line concedes a corner throw to the other side, but if an opposing player sends it over it is a free throw for the goalkeeper. After each goal is scored the players return to their respective ends, waiting for the word " Go, and at half-time they are allowed a rest of three minutes, during which they leave the water. Fouls, half-time and time are declared by whistle, and goals by bell.
The game requires careful practice of smart and scientific passing, side and back-handed throws, and accurate shooting. For this purpose " throwing the water-polo ball " contests are commonly held by the leading clubs, who also engineer competitions on points for shooting at goal.
, It was not until the formation of the London Water Polo League in 1889 that the game was specially catered for, but a form of it had previously been known and played in several parts of England and Scotland. In 1870 the old London Swimming Association, the forerunner of the present Amateur Swimming Association, appointed a committee to draw up rules for a game of " Football in the water," but no report of that committee appears to have been presented. In 1876 aquatic handball matches were played in the sea off Bournemouth by members of the Bournemouth Premier Rowing Club, and in 1877 there were similar matches at the annual competition for the Bon Accord Club in the river Dee, and a year prior to that some rules had been drawn up for the Aberdeen Club. The game at length found its way to the Midlands, and led to the foundation of the Midland Aquatic Football Association, whose rules were somewhat similar to those in vogue in America, where goals are scored by placing the ball in a marked-out space called " goal." In 1883 Birmingham Leander played All England at Portsmouth; in 1885 the Amateur Swimming Association took official recognition of the game, and in 1888 started the English championship, this being won the first year by Burton-on-Trent. Then came the foundation of the London Water Polo League, through whose agency county associations came into being, inter-county matches were played, and international games arranged. The first county matches were played in 1890, and the first international the same year, the game being between England and Scotland at Kensington Baths on 28th July. England was beaten by four goals to none, but the outcome of the match was the cementing of friendly relations between the English and Scottish associations, and the gradual spread of the game, until the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh associations joined together and formed an international board, without whose sanction none of the rules of the game can now be altered. Oxford and Cambridge met for the first time in 1891, and since then the Blues' committee of each university have given swimming and water polo a " half blue." The eame has become popular in many European countries, and friendly matches between English and continental clubs are frequently played. It has also extended to Egypt, India and Australia, in which countries the British rules have been adopted.
See the Amateur Swimming Association's Handbook for rules of the game and instructions to referees. (W. Hy.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)