The Current State of the German Water Polo

Hallo everybody. Today we will speak about the current status of the German water polo. When we speak about Water polo as a whole, water represents only one element of the whole sport and never was that more obvious and apparent than in these “transit” times. Some call it a lockdown; some call it a breakdown, whatever it is we can all agree that we are dealing with much more than a pandemic.

It seems like not only our phones and computers are updating themselves, but the whole world. At the end of the day I am just another water polo goalkeeper, but thankfully I am always able to find somebody knows more than me and who is willing to speak to the public about it. When you work in the media, or you are associated with the media, people sometimes react to you kinda strange and kinda funny, but luckily for me not the Executive President for Water polo Operations at the club I am playing for. SV Bayer 08. I have already done one interview with Mr. Rainer Hoppe and you can find it here. I did not plan to do a second interview with him, but last week an interesting situation happened within the German water polo which I would like to bring some light upon. Like in the most of the European leagues, the German Water polo League its reaching its most interesting part. The play-offs and the play-downs.

(In Germany, Corona Incidence is based on the number of infected people per 100 000 inhabitants within the last 7 day. Each town, or area, has its own numbers which with them bring a certain set of rules and regulations. Magical number is 100. Bellow 100 and stuff are as close to the normality as they could be, above 100 and one has a lot more regulations, above 150 even more.)

Hallo Rainer, nice to welcome you again. In our last interview you have spoken how the German Water polo as whole, with all the clubs and the major people within the water polo community, was working together on finding solutions that will work for everyone during this pandemic. Now six months later how do you feel about this statement you made?

The women’s and men’s national leagues run in a slimmed-down form on the basis of a stringent hygiene concept. We play in a “bubble” and the competitions are held with the greatest possible safety. All athletes are tested before every training session and competition and during the games only people who have gone through this procedure in full are in the hall.

However, I am most concerned about the youth. They train in a very limited way and cannot play matches. We are potentially losing 2 years here, especially as the experience gained during the children’s best learning phase cannot be made up for.

Last few weeks Germany has been going through its hardest lockdown so far. Most of the games have still been played as planned, but our game was not canceled, nor was it played. As the German public already knows, our opponents did not come. From what I understood, and you can correct me if I am wrong here, their reasoning behind this was that due to the latest development of the situation with Corona-numbers all the rules, regulations and concepts that were accepted by all the clubs within the German water polo, should now be changed and adapted for this new situation. Did I understood that correctly?

The league is played on the basis of the specifications of the federal government and the state as well as the permits of the local authorities. In addition, the DOSB (Germany’s sports organisations) has ensured that water polo is put on a par with professional sports (such as football).
Ultimately, it is up to each athlete or club to decide whether they want to participate in the competitions. We as a club did not influence the decision of each individual, so that the athletes decided voluntarily, without pressure, whether to play or not. In our women’s team, there are currently 2 players who do not want to play. In the men’s team, they have all said that they would like to play.
The lockdown and the progressive vaccinations are having an effect, so that the pandemic is visibly subsiding. However, it is still too early to give the all-clear.
In the league, matches of teams that have a positive case are suspended immediately.

In the present case of our match, the club interprets the rules completely differently than all other teams and municipalities. Thus, the club again does not want to compete, although Waspo Hannover has received permission and will play on the same day and at the same venue.

The DSV as the federation has also left it up to the clubs whether they want to play or not. There would then also be no sanctions.

However, this behaviour of our opponent is now detrimental to water polo and our federation as well as our club.
A mature decision would be to simply cancel and find a solution together. In my opinion, our opponents lose their entire reputation because of this behaviour.

In a crisis you can see the character

As it is playoff time, and some teams could change their opponents next year. Could you explain to my readers, which might not know, what are the relations and differences between German 1.A League and the German 1.B League and if we take Waspo and Spandau out of the equation, are there any big differences between these two leagues and the way their respected clubs are regulated? Who is governing them? Where do we draw a line between a professional athlete, a semi-professional athlete and an amateur athlete and what determines which set of corona rules and guidelines should be applied to these different types of Athletes? What possible ramification will this whole situation (with the White Sharks) have on the whole of German water polo?

The differences between the Pro A (with Waspo Hannover and Spandau Berlin) are not that big except for these two teams.

Between the teams from 3rd place onwards in Pro A, the competition is balanced, so that teams from Pro B could also get good games and results against those from Pro A.

From my point of view, it would be better to have a unified league with 12 teams. That would at least be more exciting from 3rd place and the public would also understand the system better.

The league is the responsibility of the federation, so they could also initiate this reform. The interests of the clubs are very heterogeneous, so there is a need for a strong hand to regulate the league. I can only make suggestions. But the DSV has to implement them.

For me, all water polo players who take on the effort of daily training are professionals. This is also the view of the DOSB, which puts us on an equal footing with sports like handball, ice hockey and football. All other distinctions are not factual, because we are all just human beings and everyone, regardless of status, bears the same risk.

I don’t think the Whitesharks are doing themselves any favours by behaving like this. As I said, a clear word would widen the solution space. For example, they could play with one more team in Pro A next season. But that is for the association to decide.

In your opinion, how is the German Water polo Association dealing with all the issues that they had to deal with ever since our last conversation? Has this pandemic maybe exposed some of the stuff that you already were talking about, or have we maybe seen some positive changes within the German Water polo Association?

The association supports us 100% in this issue with the Whitesharks.

After the renewed failure in the Olympic qualification, an analysis and a stringent starting strategy are needed. We will see whether the people involved learn the right lessons from this.

In my opinion, we should look at the structures of the past, when we were successful in Germany, and adapt them to modern times. At the moment, I only see actionism without a strategy for the future.

The pandemic is a catalyst for this process and clearly shows the weaknesses in the system.  As I see it, only a ruthless, consistent analysis with transparent, open communication can help.

Whoever wants to drain a swamp must not ask the frogs.”

This year German water polo has once again not qualified for the Olympic Games. Third time in a row. What does that mean for the German Water polo? Does that leave Water polo in Germany in the same place that it already had, or does three times in a row have any bigger consequences?

Failure only has a consequence if we draw the right lessons from it. The basis for a new beginning is given. But solidarity is needed to implement it. Sport always gives you the chance to lose. That’s what makes sport so appealing. And giving up is not an option.

Last month an interesting situation happened within the European football scene. A bigger number of clubs were involved in a project that would see around 20 clubs participating inand controlling their own version of European Championship League all backed by the J.P Morgan money. Even though this project has more or less failed and J.P. Morgan has decided to take themselves out of this situation, we still have 3-4 club presidents which are not giving up on this idea. What is your take on this situation? Is this a power struggle within the European football, or is something else happening here?

Soccer is a business in which only the internal circle (players, coaches, managers, etc.) earn. The rest (sponsors, fans, municipalities, etc.) only pay without ever being able to expect a return on investment. Soccer has shown its second face in the crisis. There is no solidarity community and each club sees only its advantage. Many of the teams that participated are actually economically broke and try to survive with this move.

There are also parallels to the Champions League in water polo.

In this new world dominated by clicks and views, my opinion is that the European football clubs could be getting a lot more views and clicks from outside of Europe which could play a big disruptive role within the European football in the future. You are a member of a generation that has only recently started to actively participate on the social media. What are your experiences with social media and opinions on it?

Social media are both a blessing and a curse. Anyone can say almost anything with impunity. That is sometimes hard to bear for people like me who address things with an honest attitude.

There will be no regulation, and it remains to be seen whether young people in particular, who grow up with these media, will behave differently later on. Unfortunately, targeted disinformation can provoke worrying situations. We must all learn to evaluate information correctly. Nothing replaces the personal conversation!

Just like in German water polo, which has been dominated by two clubs, most of the national leagues in Europe are dominated by two to three clubs. Speaking hypothetically. Are we ever going to see something like a NBA League, with all its salary caps and regulations, within the European water polo, where the best European clubs would play a whole season just against each other without them playing against clubs from their own national leagues?

Water polo, unlike soccer, is not a business. The buzz invested in water polo is comparatively small. Since water polo lacks a broad base – with exceptions in Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, etc. – it will not happen. In water polo, the maximum that can be done is to minimize costs through marketing. It will never become a real business.

During the making of this interview some games were played and unfortunately Bayer SV 08 has not qualified for the German 1.A league. We played two games and we lost them both in a heartbreaking way. You have done all the necessary testing and you came with us to Hannover to help us win. What was your take from these two games which we lost to White Sharks from Hannover?

The games were exciting and fair and fun.

I take with me that more teams are in competition -with exceptions of Spandau and Waspo- and that the league should be restructured.

Next we come back stronger 🙂

Rainer, thank you very much for doing this with me. It’s been a pleasure as always. And we came to our last question. If I may ask, how hard has this pandemic affected you, both professionally and personally? What are the biggest obstacles and hurdles that you had to deal with and has this pandemic affect the quality of life that you have tried to build for your family and yourself in times before the pandemic?

My personal limitations were rather minor. We did not become infected, thank God.

Some of the insights were also positive, because we focused on the essential things and were able to reflect on what is really important. The situation is of course much more difficult for the old and young.

However, I miss the freedoms that were not so appreciated before. Meeting friends, going out to eat, traveling, playing sports and of course watching water polo.