Water Polo Photography
The history of water polo as a team sport began in late 19th century England and Scotland, where water sports were a feature of county fairs and festivals. Men’s water polo was among the first team sports introduced at the modern Olympic games in 1900. The rules of water polo were originally developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Great Britain by William Wilson. The modern game originated as a form of rugby football played in rivers and lakes in England and Scotland with a ball constructed of Indian rubber. This “water rugby” came to be called “water polo” based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball, pulu. Early play allowed brute strength, wrestling and holding opposing players underwater to recover the ball; the goalie stood outside the playing area and defended the goal by jumping in on any opponent attempting to score by placing the ball on the deck.
By the 1880s, the game evolved that stressed swimming, passing, and scoring by shooting into a goal net; players could only be tackled when holding the ball and could not be taken under water. To deal with constant changes in rules, in 1888, the London Water Polo League was founded and approved rules to allow team competition, forming the foundation of the present game.
Lord Plumer who was Governor of the Maltese Islands form 1919-1924 and a great supporter and admirer of Maltese water polo teams who, at that time took on powerful services teams mostly from the fleet anchored in our harbours first thought of the idea of sending a water polo team to the Paris 1924 Games. Unfortunately, however because his term of office was nearly over, there was no time to make the necessary arrangements for Malta’s participation.
After Lord Plumer’s departure, one of his staff mentioned the Governor’s idea of Malta being represented at the Olympic Games and soon one of Malta’s most prominent waterpolo players of the time, Carmel “Meme” Busietta, started the ball rolling for Malta’s participation in the Amsterdam Olympiad of 1928. The prospect of our Island being represented along with the other nations in the international arena in competitions of such magnitude caught the imagination of all the water polo enthusiasts and soon the Amateur Swimming Association of Malta came into being holding its first meeting in 1925.
Immediately after being accepted as a member of the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), Malta applied for participation in the Amsterdam Olympiad. But to everyone’s dismay this was refused by the Netherland’s Organising Committee on the grounds that Malta could not participate as a nation because it was a colony of Great Britain. The Maltese, through the excellent relations with Mr. Hern, at the same time Secretary of the ASA of Great Britain and also of FINA, sought the help of the world’s swimming body who in turn asked a legal adviser to take up Malta’s case. After a prolonged legal battle, Malta’s participation as a nation was accepted. However as all the dealings with the International authorities were being conducted by the ASA of Malta and as the official invitation was to be sent to “the official committee representing all sports of Malta” a Malta Olympic Committee had to be formed.
This was soon set up and Malta OC held its first meeting on the 5th of June 1928 at 153, Strada Zecca, Valletta. Things had to move very fast, but Malta did finally make it to Amsterdam Olympiad being represented by its waterpolo team. Malta could not have had a more auspicious baptism of fire for they beat Luxembourg in their first ever international match 3-1. However they suffered heavy defeats in their two subsequent encounters going down to France (the eventual bronze medallists) 16-0 and the United States 8-0. Malta took part for the second time in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 again in water polo and athletics. Nobody who participated in those Games is ever likely to forget the spectacle witnessed.
As regards waterpolo, with Malta not having at that time a fresh water pool, the Maltese players were again faced with the problem of buoyancy. However in their first friendly matches before the Games, they produced very satisfactory results which in turn, proved to the detrimental as they gave the Maltese a false sense of self confidence. In fact when the moment of truth arrived facing national sides, it was a different story altogether. They were easily beaten by Britain 6-2; by Hungary, the eventual champions 12-0 and by Yugoslavia 7-0. Therefore, Water Polo was officially organised as a sport in 1925 when the then Amateur Swimming Association was set up. The name of the association was changed by means of a resolution passed during the Annual General Meeting of 2000 – the official name was changed to Aquatic Sports Association of Malta.
The first National Pool was built at southern town of M’Scala. It was inaugurated by the then President of Malta – the late Agatha Barbara in 1986. The (very) fresh-water pool was named The Zonqor Swimming Pool. In June 1986 the first Water Polo match played at M’Scala was organised for the opening occasion of the said pool between the National Team and a selection from Sicilia (Ortigia). This match was officiated by referees Alfred and Victor Cachia.
All the pictures in the post were shot in the old National Pool of M’Scala during a training session of the Marsaskala Sports Club, which was originally founded in 1927, and re-founded in 1974. The Clu is one of the oldest in Malta. Having languished in the second division for many years, Marsaskala Sports Club established themselves as one of Malta’s top teams in the mid-nineties. In 1997 they were crowned Malta champions. They have represented Malta in the Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN) Trophy in Chios, Greece in 1997 and the European Champions Cup in 1998 in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic, becoming the first Maltese team to win two European Champions Cup matches, against Swiss champions Horgen and the hosts themselves.
Several Marsaskala Sports Club products have also played with distinction in the national team, amongst of which were Charles Flask, Alfred Xuereb il-Yogi, Charles Żammit, Joseph Caruana Dingli, Anton Privitera, Paul Privitera and John Licari. Both Joseph Caruana Dingli and Paul Privitera have also captained the Malta national team on many occasions.
Sources: Wikipedia, History of Water Polo in Malta; 1910-1988 by Arthur J.Leaver
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