Friday, June 1, 2012

Southeast Asian Swimming Championships, Water Polo - May 30, 2012

Living in Singapore means a new outlook on viewing live sports. Whereas in Japan I had plenty of baseball and soccer to choose from as well as some quality international events, Singapore is essentially devoid of any big name sports other than the Formula 1 race in September. So when a tournament of any kind makes a visit here, I'm going to check it out no matter how small it may be. It is the only way to keep this blog going and it should give me a chance to see some sports I've never seen before.

Such was the case this week when the Southeast Asian Swimming Championships made their way to town. Consisting of four sports (water polo, swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming) held over a 3-week period, the games invite athletes from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and other smaller countries in this region. Water polo kicked off the festivities with a week-long round robin tournament featuring five teams in the women's bracket and four in the men's. Each evening saw three or four matches at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex and so I headed over on Wednesday to watch some games.

Tickets were $5 and I am pretty sure I was the only non-Asian in attendance, earning a few bemused looks from my fellow fans. The first game featured the Indonesian women against Thailand and was an opportunity for me to learn about the game. To simplify it as much as possible, it is somewhat like basketball played in water. Teams alternate offensive possessions in an attempt to put the ball into the opposing net while a shot clock counts down. There are fouls and turnovers as well. That's where the similarities end.

Teams have 6 swimmers and one goalkeeper, with changes made during stoppages as players from the bench dive in to replace their tired teammates. There are four 7-minute quarters, with a 5-minute halftime during which teams switch benches, and a 2-minute break between the other quarters.

To begin each quarter, teams line up at their goal and then swim to the centre where the ball is resting (above), with the winning team taking possession. Players swim forward, propelling the ball with their face, then pass the ball to a teammate in an attempt to get a clear shot on goal, all while the 30-second shot clock winds down.

When on defense, players generally attempt to drown their opponents (above) but there are two referees, each patrolling one side of the pool to ensure the shenanigans are kept to a minimum. Fouls are plentiful (in one quarter I counted 32) and there are two types: a minor foul for being too close to the man with the ball, and a major foul which acts like a penalty in hockey in that the offender must swim out of the field of play while the opposition enjoys a single possession with the man advantage. Three major fouls entail ejection from the game.

The first game I saw was rather rough as both teams were aggressive on defense. Three players were ejected and there were 26 major fouls overall as Indonesia won 13-8. That's a Thailand goal below though.

The second game was entirely different as it was a mismatch with Singapore beating Malaysia 17-1. There were few infractions here as the referees were lenient and Singapore didn't pile on the goals (they could have scored 30 if they wanted to). There were only 4 major fouls committed and generally a more congenial atmosphere prevailed, with the Malaysian goalie smiling for much of the game despite being treated as a shooting gallery.

After that, it was the men's turn and this is where things finally got interesting. Much like basketball, the women's game is slower and less powerful and there was a noticeable change in attitude as Thailand and Malaysia prepared to face off. There was one small rule change as the quarters were extended to 8 minutes.

This game went back and forth with Thailand prevailing 11-9 helped by a 6-3 second quarter. One thing I noticed is that players tire as the game progresses (duh, swimming is tough work) and goals are less frequent in the second half. In this game 14 of the 20 markers were scored in the first half. Below is the Thai goalie making a key save late in the game.

Overall, this was a good introduction to the game. I would like to see some top quality teams do battle as it can be an entertaining sport when you have competitive squads. However, with the 2012 World League taking place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I'll probably have to wait a while.


Singapore went on to win both tournaments, finishing undefeated in both cases.

The other sports don't begin until June 9th, so there is a week off between water polo and diving, a rather odd way to run an international event such as this.

Next Up

I'm off to Atlanta next week for a 3-game Jays set against the Braves, then doing the Florida State League and the Marlins new ballpark. It will be my last big trip for a while as Singapore is just too far away to make regular visits so check back regularly for updates.



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