Sport seeks renewal in bid for popularity

Fri Jul 18, 2014 2:27pm EDT
 
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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Twelve hours after Germany's soccer team had won the World Cup in Brazil, the country's water polo team jumped in the pool for the opening game of the European Championship in the Hungarian capital.

It is probably not the result - Germany suffered a sound 10-5 defeat at the hands of Croatia - that kept news of the game out of the limelight. Professional water polo has been shunned for so long that the sport's leaders now fear for its survival.

That is not the conclusion one might come to at the Margaret Island Aquatics Complex, which has been outfitted with 8,000 seats and fills to capacity on most nights, especially when hosts and world champions Hungary play.

Television is so saturated with other sports, however, that water polo sponsors get nowhere near the kind of media exposure they would through other events.

"Water polo has been around forever, and some games induce downright euphoria out here," said Tamas Gyarfas, the Hungarian vice president of the international water sports association FINA. "But their TV appeal is weaker for a number of reasons.

"We worry that it might hit a point where it can no longer be considered a top priority sport."

Gyarfas, who has also had a career as a media businessman, said it is hard to popularize, and therefore make money on a team sport where the athletes are mostly submerged in water and the action is interrupted every few seconds by referees.

"Viewers have little idea what's going on," he said. "It is not enjoyable the same way as athletics, where people dash about, or gymnastics, where they fly around. Still, we would like to save this game."   Continued...