Canoe polo is played by two teams of five players on a rectangular playing pitch that can be in open water or in a swimming pool. Matches are played over two halves of 10 minutes with the aim to score into a goal which is suspended above the water at each end of the pitch. The ball in canoe polo is the same that is used in water polo, and can be controlled by hand or by paddle. If a match ends in a tie then golden goal overtime takes place, where the next team to score is the winner.
Canoe ball games have been played in Great Britain since the late 19th century and early forms of canoe polo were played in United States of America and parts of Europe into the first half of the 20th century. A national championships in canoe polo was first held in England in 1971, but it was not until 1986 that the International Canoe Federation (ICF) published its first set of universal playing rules for the discipline. The following year canoe polo was demonstrated at the canoe sprint world championships in Duisburg, Germany, and in 1990 the ICF finalised their international rules for canoe polo.
The first world championships in canoe polo took place in Sheffield, England, in 1994, and consisted of 18 men’s teams and six women’s teams. Australia beat Germany in the final of both genders. The event is held every two years and has grown so that the 2016 edition in Syracuse, Italy, will feature 24 men’s teams and 20 women’s teams, as well as U21 events for both genders.
Since Australia won the first three men’s world titles and two of the first three women’s events, the world championships has been dominated by Europe. The last six men’s world titles have been won by Netherlands or France, with those countries alternating victory at each edition since the Dutch were triumphant in Miyoshi, Japan, in 2004. Germany were runners up in four of those six finals, and still awaits its first men’s world title. In contrast, the Germans have won five of the last eight women’s world championships, losing the other three in that run to United Kingdom/Great Britain. At least one of Germany or United Kingdom/Great Britain has featured in the top two of every women’s world championships.
Canoe polo made its debut at the World Games at the 2005 edition in Duisburg, Germany, 18 years after the modern version of the discipline had been demonstrated at the canoe sprint world championships in the very same city. Germany and United Kingdom have contested all three women’s finals at the World Games, while in the men’s competition Germany achieved in 2013 what they have failed to do at the world championships, win the gold medal.