At this time of year, many sports leagues are coming to a conclusion before the hot weather sets. Not so for water polo, a sport that has long been played in Dubai but, until now, hasn’t had a league of its own. Now the official UAE Water Polo League starts at the end of March and to find out more about this wet and wild sport, Time Out caught up with Dubai Camels Water Polo Club member, Greg Moore.
‘It’s helped that we have a fantastic new facility at the Dubai Men’s College,’ says Greg. ‘Before we were playing at pools with shallow ends; now we’re playing in an Olympic-standard pool.’
Finding a suitable place to play seems to be an obstacle facing all amateur sport teams here in Dubai, but now that the Camels (not to be confused with the ice hockey team of the same name) have a base, they’ve enjoyed high turnouts at their weekly training sessions: ‘Around 20 to 30,’ confirms Greg. ‘But the pool’s big enough to fit 50-60 people if we needed to.’
There’s certainly an appetite for water polo here in Dubai. Dubai Boy’s College and Jumeirah College have formed teams that will take part in the league, and there’s also a team of Syrian expats and a team of Egyptian expats, as well as a team from Abu Dhabi.
So how can you get involved? ‘You need a basic ability to swim – and swim confidently – to play water polo,’ says Greg. ‘The game is quite a technical sport, which requires you to swim, hold a ball, and tread water and also to be able to take a bit of pressure from an opposing player.’
The standard of players varies hugely – from players who have competed at national level to beginners who show good coordination, physical fitness and a competitive appetite.
‘It’s a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, and having someone effectively rugby tackling you,’ laughs Greg. ‘But there are basic skills and techniques that anyone can pick up and use in a game. And we mix things up: we do technical training for people and scrimmaging – setting up game scenarios so people understand how it works. And that’s been really successful – successful enough to encourage the college boys to get a team together.’
The difficulties, according to Greg, are the same as taking up any sport: ‘Anyone can pick up a golf club and hit a ball, but sometimes that ball goes too far, sometimes you don’t hit it at all – same as water polo. Anyone can pick up a ball and throw it and swim, but combining the two may prove difficult. However, you can very quickly become competent at the sport by understanding some basic formations and basic rules about marking players, and covering back. Once you’ve mastered those, the rest of it is comes with experience.’
The UAE Water Polo League will run for four months from the end of March with round-robin tournaments taking place every month for four months. And the fun doesn’t stop there: come May the Dubai Camels will travel to Qatar to play in a sea tournament – quite literally water polo played in the sea. After Ramadan, Greg hopes that Dubai will be ready to host an international tournament featuring teams from around the Gulf region.
‘It’s a tough and a physical game, but it’s a very fair sport in the sense that what goes on in the pool stays in the pool. It’s a great sport to play and you make great friends,’ concludes Greg, which is enough to convince Time Out to pull on a pair of Speedos.
Training takes place from 10am-11am every Saturday at Dubai Men’s College, Academic City Road (04 326 0333). Dhs20 per session (students), Dhs40 (professionals).
Water polo by numbers
Amount of players on a team
The year men’s water polo was introduced as an Olympic event
The year women’s water polo was introduced to the Olympics
Number of Olympic gold medals won by the Hungarian water polo team – the most successful team in Olympic history
Number of minutes played per quarter in Olympic water polo (seven in club water polo)