In its new Competition Regulations published in late February, World Aquatics made several sweeping changes, including a change that will see a winner in every water polo match.
SwimSwam has covered several of the changes made by the global governing body already, including the new three-year waiting period to change sporting nationality, the extension in age eligibility for World Juniors, along with the change in the backstroke finish.
In water polo, the primary shift is that matches will no longer end in a tie, something implemented by other organizations in varying capacities.
The new rules state: Each World Aquatics Water Polo game shall have a winner at full time in any game. There shall be a penalty shoot out to determine the result as specified in Appendix 6.
Appendix 6 lays out the rules and regulations of a penalty shootout, but the pertinent information regarding this new rule is copied below.
If a penalty shootout is necessary to break a tie, the following procedure shall be followed:
- (a) If it involves the two teams having just completed a game, the shoot out will begin immediately and the same referees will be used.
- (b) Otherwise, the shoot out will occur 30 minutes following the completion of the final game of that round, or at the first practical opportunity. The referees involved in the most recent game of that round will be used, provided they are neutral.
- (c) If three or more teams are involved, each team will shoot five penalty shots against each of the other teams, alternating at each shot. The order of the first shot will be determined by draw.
Part (a) refers to a case where a draw occurs between two teams that just played, which will be decided by a five-player shootout, which ends with the winner having the most points after the five players have each taken their respective shot. If they are still tied after the five players from each team have shot, they use the same five players again until one team scores and the other misses, similar to FIFA’s penalty shootout.
Parts (b) and (c) refer to cases of round-robin or group play, where if teams end up tied in points and need to break them in order to see who advances, they would use a shoot-out. The previous tie-breaking format was the head-to-head record between the two squads, followed by goal differential against the next highest-ranked opponent and then the next team down the line. If all tie-breakers seem to end with no conclusive winner, then and only then would a shootout occur. But with ties no longer allowed, the head-to-head record would be the sole deciding factor.
It should be noted that different FINA, now World Aquatics, levels of competition followed different rules regarding ties. The FINA World League in Water Polo did not have ties as part of their round-robin play, but rather, had overtime wins and losses. This rule change may only apply to the World Championships and the Olympic Games where ties were involved in the group stages.
The LEN (European Aquatics) has had the shoot-out rule in all of its water polo competitions.
At the 2022 FINA World Championships, there was one tie in the men’s preliminary rounds and two in the women’s. These ties resulted in the Greek and Spanish women’s teams tying atop their group as well as the Greek and Croatian men’s teams. With penalty shootouts now occurring immediately after the match, these ties would make sorting out the groups much easier.
Looking at the NCAA rulebook for water polo regarding ties, we find a different format. Should a game end in a tie, the teams move into an overtime period consisting of two three-minute periods. If the teams are still tied in score after that, they move into three-minute periods of sudden death (first goal wins) until a winner is determined.
While the new rule change may make initial group matches longer as they can no longer end in a tie, shootouts may make for a more exciting conclusion and clear up confusion on determining the outcome of group play results.
If you are interested in reading the full list of competition regulations, they can be found here.