FINA Confirms Postponement of the Men’s Olympic Water Polo Qualifier in Rotterdam
The Dutch men's national team will get a shot at an Olympic berth in May—in Rotterdam. Photo Courtesy: Netherlands Waterpolo

Following a period of uncertainty, as sports entities as diverse of La Liga in Spain, the Ivy League athletics conference in the U.S., LEN in Europe and even the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced postponements or cancellation of athletic events, earlier today FINA confirmed what most knew was inevitable: the 2020 Men’s Water Polo Olympic Games Qualification Tournament, scheduled to be held March 22 – 29 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, would be rescheduled.

rotterdam_logoThe new dates are May 31 – June 7, with the Zwemcentrum Rotterdam remaining the venue for a competition that will determine the final three participants for the men’s water polo draw at the Tokyo Olympics.

“We understand and respect FINA’s decision to cancel international matches until further notice,” said Aschwin Lankwarden, General Manager for the Royal Dutch Swimming Federation, said in a statement on the federation’s website.

“The cancellation of the Olympic qualifying tournaments [for] water polo men and swimming and other competitions in our country is a setback for all parties involved, but safety first. We are in daily contact with managers from our international federation. Fortunately, we have already been able to plan a new date for the OQT water polo in consultation with FINA. We will of course continue to follow the international developments regarding the coronavirus and the national guidelines. Information is also continuously exchanged with The Dutch Olympic Committee / Dutch Sports Federation.”

[FINA Cancels/ Postpones Swathe Of Aquatic Events Due To Coronavirus Pandemic, Some Decisions Pending]

The women’s qualifier, which had been schedule for earlier this month, was previously moved to May 17 – 24 but will remain in Trieste, Italy, likely at the Bruno Bianchi Swimming Complex.

The 12 men’s participants include  Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Turkey and host The Netherlands.

27-03-2018: Waterpolo: Vrouwen Nederland v Rusland: Rotterdam (L-R) New swimming pool Sportcentrum Rotterdam during FINA Women's waterpolo World League Match between team Netherlands and Russia in pool Sportcentrum Rotterdam FINA Women's Waterpolo World League - Season 2017 / 2018 Foto / Photo: Gertjan Kooij

The Zwemcentrum Rotterdam will host an Olympic men’s water polo qualifier—in two months. Photo Courtesy: Beeldboot/Gertjan Kooij

Currently, nine men’s teams have already qualified; Japan—the host country—Australia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and the United States. South Africa, which essentially has an automatic bid as the only representative from Africa, last accepted an Olympic berth in 1960.

The delay has caused confusion among countries eager to qualify for Tokyo, though there is no guarantee that—given the havoc COVID-19 is causing world-wide—the 2020 Olympics will take place this summer.

When reached for confirmation as to if / when his team might travel to Europe, Ricardo Azevedo, Brazilian head coach, expressed uncertainty about what the immediate future holds for his team that is on the outside looking in of the qualification process.

“COVID-19 is causing havoc around the world, with each country is dealing with it in a different way,” Azevedo said in an email. “It seems that isolation is what they are recommending. If that is the case than any type of gathering should be suspended.” He added:

“I just hope that we have a better solution than we did with the Asian qualification.”

In referencing the Asian water polo qualifiers, Azevedo referred to the controversial decision by the Asian Swimming Federation to cancel the region’s qualification tournament for men and women that was scheduled for February due to concerns about the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. Instead, the AASF and FINA agreed to award the berths from Asia to the Kazakh men and Chinese women’s teams based upon the results of the 2018 Asian Games

[Kazakhstan’s Andrey Kryukov On the Coronavirus Crisis: “I Believe the Sports World Will Survive”]

This decision reportedly angered the Iran Swimming Federation, whose men’s team finished second to Kazakhstan in the 2018 final. Iran is currently being battered by the coronavirus, with more than 10,000 infected and at least 429 deaths.

Canada, which earlier this week reported its first fatalities from COVID-19, also questioned the viability of traveling to Europe in March given the current health issues on the continent.

When reached for comment, Mylène Turcotte-Fitzgerald, Manager for Communications & Marketing for Water Polo Canada, responded with a statement from Justin Oliveira, Water Polo Canada High Performance Director.

“We’ve been following the situation worldwide and specifically Europe surrounding COVID-19 and must firstly ensure the safety of our athletes and staff above all else,” he said.

“At the moment, we must follow our plan, as this is the last chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and to this date, there is no indication that the event will be cancelled or rescheduled. We will continue to follow the advice of our medical staff in order to have the most optimal preparation and to take the necessary safety precautions.”

In fairness to FINA and the Royal Dutch Swimming Federation, the coronavirus crisis—inflamed by both news media and the reality of a virus that has infected more than 125,000 and resulted in more than 4,700 deaths—has resisted substantial efforts to halt its spread.

The real challenge is what comes next. Earlier this week FINA announced a task force of medical experts to consider the possible consequences of the coronavirus for aquatic sports. These five individuals—none of whom apparently is a specialist in infectious diseases—will meet for the first time on March 16 to attack a global health crisis that threatens more than just the world’s largest sporting event.

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