WP World Conference, Day 2: "Don't be afraid to change!"

World Water Polo Conference

FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu found the right words to wrap-up the two-day FINA World Water Polo Conference, which concluded in Cancun (MEX) on February 28, 2014. “We must move with the time. Time is changing, so water polo has also to evolve. We must transform this discipline into a memorable entertaining and social event.”

The two-day gathering drew the following conclusion: evaluate the status of water polo in the international sport market, look at what others are doing in fundamental areas such as marketing, communication and promotion, and propose new strategies for the oldest Olympic team sport. “The rules of the game are perhaps the easiest part of the equation. We have to create synergies at all levels, and most importantly, we must not be afraid of change”, continued FINA’s Executive Director. “We have a great game, with fantastic players, so let’s keep the expectations high!”

The media panel - credit photo: Giorgio Scala

The last day of the Conference was devoted to the media perspective of the game and in finding new ideas for a better appeal of water polo on TV, digital platforms, and written press. All four panellists agreed that water polo needs to simplify its rules and to create emotional ties with the fans. "We are all in this Conference to get more fans around water polo, so that the sport can grow. But this is done not only by pleasing the existing fans, but most importantly, by conquering new comers to the game", said Gianni Merlo, AIPS (International Sport Press Association) President. Peter Diamond, Senior Vice President at NBC Olympics, raised one of the issues pertaining to water polo's TV exposure: 

“TV is made by two things: image and sound. The image of water polo is fantastic, but the sound is not so brilliant. There is too many whistles, and this drives fans crazy. In any successful sport, players play”, said Diamond.

Claude Ruibal, Global Head of Sports Content at Google/YouTube, asked the audience to consider “fans as real fans”, while Koji Sato, Sports Division Deputy General Manager at TV Asahi, highlighted that “viewers must share stories of the game with the players”.

Leaders from the water polo world briefed the delegates about possible changes in the rules, aiming at simplifying the game, and make it easier to understand for the audience. “Rules are difficult to assimilate, while the game is too slow, and it lacks a show element”, considered Erik Van Heijningen, FINA Bureau Member from the Netherlands. Lolo Ibern from Spain, and member of the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee, recalled that in accordance to a recent study, “only 34% of goals are obtained in action”. These experts were unanimous in considering that at present, players are primarily looking for a man-up situation, and only after to score goals. This trend has to be modified and several ideas were proposed by the panellists in order to make water polo a more offensive game. These suggestions will now be further studied by the FINA Family in the months to come.

“And you in the FINA family are a big key to that success. As the eyes, the ears, and the heart of this sport, you play a very crucial role in the continued development and expansion of Water Polo worldwide. I hope that these two days have given you more to think about for the future of our sport”, was the last message from the FINA President Dr. Julio C. Maglione in his closing speech. 

The FINA World Water Polo Conference gathered over 80 delegates from 65 countries in Cancun.