Water Polo Olympics

Learn more about Water Polo

British Water Polo is one of the five sports of the national governing body of British Swimming. 

Water polo originated in England and Scotland was one of the original team sports at the first modern Olympic Games in 1900 with Great Britain winning the first four men’s Olympic gold medals in 1900, 1908, 1912 and 1920.

The sport combines speed and strength as well as teamwork and a high level of fitness – one outfield player can cover up to two miles in one game alone.

Click here for the full World Aquatics Water Polo Regulations.

Click here for the European Aquatics Code of Discipline for Water Polo.


To help you understand more about water polo, we’ve broken down the basic water polo rules into simplified sections below.

Put simply, there are goals at each end of the pool and the winner of the game is the team that scores the most goals by getting the ball between the posts.


Each team is allowed to have seven players in the water at any one time (six ‘outfield’ players and a goalkeeper). Other than the goalkeeper, you will see the other players moving continuously around the pool.

They are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool and must tread water the entire time – although players use a movement called the egg-beater which is more efficient than the normal action of treading water.

Players can move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or swimming while pushing the ball in front of them. They can only hold the ball with one hand, other than the goalkeeper who can use both hands.

Water polo players need remarkable stamina because of the considerable amount of holding and pushing that occurs during the game. As it’s such a fast game and can be quite draining, each team is also allowed a maximum of six substitutes.

Game Time

Under FINA rules, a water polo match is divided into quarters.

Each of the four periods is eight minutes long but because the clock is stopped when the ball is not ‘in play’, in real life the average quarter lasts around 12 minutes.

Each team is only allowed to hold onto the ball for a maximum of 30 seconds before shooting for the goal. If they haven’t done this then possession passes to the other team.


When people talk about Water polo, it is often seen as a physical sport with players jockeying for position or aiming to knock away or steal the ball from the other team.

However, those who know about Water Polo know that actions like deliberately kicking or hitting an opponent with the intent to injure is against the rules. Sometimes players will commit a foul in order to stop a player shooting for goal or getting into space.

Players will also try and stop other players even if they haven’t got the ball. They may try to grab their opponent’s shoulders, back or legs. This is also a foul.

A player caught committing a major foul is asked to leave the pool for 20 seconds. A major foul includes sinking (dunking) a player, swimming on another player’s back or trying to stop the other player from swimming.

Once asked to leave the pool a player who has committed a major foul may return sooner if a goal is scored or his team regains possession. If a player commits a major foul three times they must sit out the whole match.