Catching Up with Rainer Hoppe, Chairman of German Water Polo

fina-promo-sep18
Clap Like It's Hot - polo in Germany! Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

BERLIN, Germany. As is often the case, the home team presents many different storylines—usually positive—when discussing the impact of water polo as both a sport and a cultural presence. The German National Team’s exhilarating success hosting the FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup 2018 is one of the primary storylines at the Europa Sports Park, the massive swimming and biking complex in East Berlin where competition is being held.

fina-berlin-logo

The heightened awareness of polo both in Germany and internationally is part of a strategy put forth by the German Swimming Federation, which oversees all aquatics in Germany, and its water polo division, overseen by Chairman Rainer Hoppe.

Like current national team head coach Hagen Stamm, his former teammate on the national team, Hoppe is one of the most recognizable faces in the sport in Germany. In 1984 he and Stamm led their country to it’s greatest ever success in the sport: a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Hoppe also represented his country at the 1982 World Cup, 1985 European Championships and was with the World Cup winning squad in 1985. Overall, he has 142 caps for Germany.

Swimming World spoke with Chairman Hoppe in the stands of the Europa Sports Park swimming hall about the importance of the Germans achieving a milestone win over South Africa on Friday night—qualifying them for their first FINA World Championship since 2013—Stamm’s significance as the face of a new strategy for success, and the now achievable goal of Germany qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

– Does Germany’s success here at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup 2018 mark a new direction for your country’s national team?

It’s important to for many reasons. The main reason is we had a strategic break this year; that means we said: Ok, if we qualify for the world championship we focus on 2020. If we don’t qualify, we directly go strategically to 2024.

Our main funders are the government—that means we get backwind; you know two years more time, flexibility to set up our new structure.

hoppe-sep18

Rainer Hoppe. Photo Courtesy: Matthias Beckonert / www.wasserballecke.de

We have a parallel strategy to improve the “A’ national team but also parallel we want to develop the younger players. Therefore we need a structure, and structure always needs money. If we maybe have more flexibility—I don’t know, I can’t estimate how much was on the table yesterday but it could be 1 – 2 Million €.

If you calculate everything also with new pools, coaches, more flexibility to do training camps. This is very important to us because I took over the job here as chairman of German Water Polo two years ago and we were very ambitious. And that gives us more internally stability.

The third thing for me, especially because I played together with Coach Stamm, the biggest risk was for him to take over this job because he missed 2012 and he maybe wanted to show that he can do better but he’s also president of Wasserfreunde Spandau—what a risky job for him.

Now he showed that he can be successful in the same environment with the same people. And what I saw in the water yesterday was a really good team fight. The team spirit was not one or the other individual player—the whole structure was strong. This is what I like very much [and] it’s a unique success because 95% of this is all work and often frustrating.

But this other success is that it brings us forward and gives us motivation to continue.

– There’s the old and the new for the German roster; old being Julian Real, now your captain who was a member of the 2008 Olympic team. And new—to some extent—Ben Reibel, whose father Guido played for Germany at the 1992 Olympics.

Julian Real is our icon in the water, he’s the one who drives us. I think with visibility maybe Marko Stamm, he’s a world class player and most teams have respect for him.

I’ve known Ben Reibel since he was a baby; he played for my hometown where I’m on the managing board of SV Bayer Uerdingen.

german-fina-sep18

Ben Reibel. Photo Courtesy: FINA

[Reibel] had finished school and he was really well-trained, the environment with his family, and then Guido Reibel, his father a former Olympic player—he’s also a person who can push it—the thought was clear: we should send him for the next step, to one of the big clubs in Germany: Waspo 98 Hannover and Spandau Berlin because they play [LEN] Champions League.

He’s now for one year in this environment [at Spandau Berlin] and he’s getting better and better. He’s not at the end of the development but he’s nearby [in Berlin] and you can see how big talents want to play and the will to play and the motivation, the concentration—and the will to go forward and have success.

If maybe from the younger players every year add one-two players, then we can maybe continue [to improve] because normally you have a place in the national team eight-ten years. If we can get one-two big talents into the “A” team every year then we can be successful again.

– But how do you define success? Is it moving up in the European Championships? Or, is it a push for a spot in the Olympics?

I think it will be a push, but this is also if we get more support. The qualification for Tokyo will be in spring 2020, and I’m very optimistic because at the moment we’re on the same level as the teams we are competing against. I think USA is automatically qualified. Australia qualified, I think. But they are strong teams and we at the moment are on the same level as Europe. It depends on the daily form like the Netherlands or France—other teams we are competing against.

We have now one and a half years more time to improve it. We are just started and it’s hoped that we can improve our form better and better and that we are one of the first three or four can qualify in 2020.

– Is it fair to say that each win at this tournament increases German Water Polo’s chances for additional support and therefore success?

If you tell stories—and we’ve also told stories in the past, not me but other people, and we didn’t deliver. That gives us confidence on the one side, on the other side there is trust in us, because if you deliver, they say: Okay, they have a strategy, and they follow that strategy and a way to set up this new structure, and they also deliver results.

stamm-sep18

Hagen Stamm. Photo Courtesy: M.Randazzo

A good result this year was in the European Championship in Barcelona was the ninth place. If we had beaten Hungary in Barcelona we could have gotten into eighth. this is also good. We also have a chance at a double strategy that Julian Real and the other big players that are very intensive in competition that they are not playing and the younger players gets the chance to gain experience.

Because if we had not qualified for the World Championship then the only competition we would have is the World League and the LEN Nations Cup.

In our government, the people who decide if we are successful or not [judge us] mainly by our success in the European Championships, World Championships or the Olympics. They are deciding [based upon this] and not the many other tournaments in the world.

– How crucial has Coach Stamm been to the current success of your national team?

Hagen was always involved with water polo because he was with Spandau Berlin as president. He’s very important for the sport because he’s a good representative internally and externally for the sport. I also play water polo with him—if I come anywhere with him, everybody knows him.

That makes things very easy. We support him and we’re working well together. Everybody has his role and everybody has parts to take over and everybody has a bit of the success.

1 comment