Olympic Preview: Water Polo

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

First Olympic Appearance: 1900

by John Gettings and Mark Zurlo

Related Links


Although it looks a lot like a waterlogged version of soccer for your hands, the sport's history owes more to the game of rugby. Created by resort owners in England in the mid-1800s, the sport's brutal beginnings in the rivers and lakes of the U.K. were tamed by rule changes by the end of the century, causing its popularity to soar.


Did You Know?
Water polo players swim up to one and a half miles during the course of a water polo game.


Although men's water polo has the distinction of being the first team sport added to the Olympics and has been a part of every Summer Games since 1900, women's water polo made its first appearance in 2000.

The game's rules and strategy for men and women are very similar to those of soccer. Here are some interesting exceptions:

  • Teams are made up of seven players.
  • No player is allowed to touch the bottom or sides of the pool at any time.
  • Only the goalkeeper may touch the ball with two hands.
  • Players can be tackled, but a foul is called when the tackled player holds the ball underwater–intentionally or not.
  • There is a 35-second shot clock.
  • Players cannot use a clenched fist to pass or shoot the ball.

The game is played in four periods and if the teams are tied, two extra periods are played. If the score remains tied after that, they play a third, sudden-death extra period with no time limit.

The temporary Water Polo Arena in London is the first dedicated water polo venue in any Olympics. It flaunts a reyclable inflatable roof, a 37m competition pool, training pool, and capacity for 5,000 spectators.

Sources +