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The Basic Format of Summer Olympics Water Polo

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The Basic Format of Summer Olympics Water Polo

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Sometimes overlooked, Summer Olympics water polo is a sport that doesn't receive much air time with the networks. Nevertheless, it's an exciting and fast-paced sport requiring skill, stamina, and strategy.

Here are the basics of the sport and format for the 2012 London Olympic Games:

The team

Each team is allowed to have seven players in the water at one time. This includes a goalie. A substitution can be made for any player at any time. There are a total of 13 players on each team, and rotations can occur rapidly. Only seven players can be in the pool, but when a player enters for a substitution, he can go into an entry area until the trade off occurs.


Olympic water polo is made up of four periods that last 8 minutes each. When the ball is in play a team only has 30 seconds to try and score. If they do not, the ball goes to the other team. This keeps the game moving fast. Players are constantly swimming back and forth in the pool and passing the ball to stay within the 30-second rule.

Number of teams

Through the years the number of teams has varied at the Summer Olympics. In the 2012 London Olympic Games, there will be 12 men's teams competing and 8 women's teams. A country can only send one team to the Olympics and that team must be pre-qualified. Expect teams in both the men's and women's events from the USA, Hungary, Russia, Australia, Italy, Great Britain, and Yugoslavia. The final list of entries will be posted prior to the opening ceremonies.


There are four rounds in the Olympic water polo competition. First round involves the teams being divided into two groups, with each group playing every other team in it's group. Next comes the quarterfinals, then the semifinals. Finally, the final is played by the top 2 teams.

Referees and officials

During the competition, there are sets of 2 referees watching several aspects of play. In total, there are eight officials. One set of two referees watches the pitch when the ball is put into play. A separate set of two timekeepers keep track of play to make sure the team with the ball tries to score. There is also a set of two referees for the goals, one at each end. Finally, there is a set of two secretaries that oversee the competition.

With an understanding of how the game works, it will be enjoyable to watch the action. Make no mistake, Summer Olympics water polo is always action packed.

Jan has been active in water sports for over thirty years. She has a broad range of experience as competitor, coach, instructor, and fan.

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