water polo

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A ball game played by teams of seven players in the water, called—rather curiously, as the ball is propelled by hand—‘football in the water’ in late 19th-century Britain as the sport was being developed. The comparison with football (on mainland Europe, its comparable name would have been ‘handball in the water’, and its origins in Britain were really as a form of aquatic rugby) says much about the hegemony of association football at the time, though the common features are that they are both passing games, and the aim is to propel the ball into a goal-framed net guarded by a goalkeeper at the end of the playing area. In the USA, softball in the water was a variant played at the end of the 19th century. The sport, for men, has featured in all major swimming competitions. It was recognized by the official swimming governing body in Britain in 1885, and Britain (represented by the Osborne Club from Manchester) won the first gold medal in the event at an Olympics (Paris 1900), going on to win the event in 1908, 1912, and 1920. The USA had won the 1904 event in St Louis (USA), where the British did not enter. After a French victory on home territory in 1924, the Olympic event was dominated by Hungary, taking the silver medal in 1928 and then five of the next seven Olympic titles. The USSR, Yugoslavia, and East Germany then dominated the sport at its competitive level, the communist states dedicating extensive resources to the sport at the height of the sporting Cold War. Hungary reasserted its dominance in the early 21st century with three (2000, 2004, 2008) Olympic gold medals in succession. Women's water polo was introduced into the Olympics for Sydney 2000, after protests and successful lobbying by Australian sport authorities and women sport activists. Australia won that inaugural event, Italy and the Netherlands the 2004 and 2008 titles respectively.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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