Swimming Federation of India pushes for water polo

Swimming Federation of India pushes for water polo

It's been decades now since the men's water polo team last participated in the Asian Games

Slobodan Soro is scouting for talent in the National aquatic meet at the Nettakallappa Aquatic Centre in Bengaluru. DH photo/ SK Dinesh

There is a legacy in water polo for India that is still spoken about around the pools at all the National Aquatic Championships. India has three medals at the Asian Games in this discipline. A gold in 1951 Games in New Delhi, a silver in Thailand 1970 and a bronze in 1982, once again, in New Delhi. 

It's been decades now since the men's water polo team last participated in the Asian Games. The women's team participated in just one edition, in 2010. As the sport moved forward, India has remained frozen in time.

The Swimming Federation of India (SFI) is now making moves to resurrect the sport. And the plans are already underway with Serbian double Olympic bronze medallist Slobodan Soro currently at the Nettakallappa Aquatic Centre (NAC) to scout talent from the ongoing National championship. India earnestly look to restart their challenge at the Asian level with the men's team. 

Soro represented Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, shifting from Serbia, and has worked to improve the sport there. So the 42-year-old also has a know-how of where to focus on to get back on track.

"The level is low. It's not easy because of the tradition and conditions," said Soro. "Infrastructure is not that good. There are not many heated pools so players can’t train year-round. Around the world, heated water is a basic thing. But they are really enthusiastic. With goodwill, energy and time there can be good results." 

"I have some kind of experience developing the game," he continued. "But Brazil already had sports clubs which have swimming and water polo sections. So kids know where to go and find it. In India, you don't know.” 

The sport itself is complicated with its unique requirement to float and sprint in water for long periods and not to mention throwing without one’s foot planted. 

“It's a unique sport, the muscle groups used are different. Even Neeraj Chopra won't be able to throw the ball more than 10m in the water,” Soro said with a laugh.

Soro also pointed out that things around the game also need to change, like being aware of the rule changes. SFI secretary Monal Chokshi also admitted as much. 

"The rules of water polo have changed and a lot of our players don't know the new rules. Only the team practicing before the Asian Age Group (2019) was brought into the new format," Chokshi said. 

"Soro's here to identify the good players from various teams and pick players for the national camp in December. We have a 45-day and a 30-day camps planned and we will probably have Slobodan or someone from Serbia for those camps. If all goes well, then we will have our team training in Serbia post March, ahead of the Asian Games." 

"My idea is to bring someone from Serbia working with the junior team to start from the beginning," Soro added. "That will help make the players, referees and coaches’ levels and everything higher. And coming to Serbia, the idea is playing with Serbian teams - young kids or second division - so that they can improve."

Serbian water polo is among the best in the world. They are the reigning Olympic champions, U-21 World Champions and the U-17 European champions.

The international association FINA, is also helping develop the sport with their Swim&Play ball programme and SFI is keen on implementing their programme in all the clubs in the country. 

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