Water polo as a sport in India has never got the attention it deserves. Even the players live in wilderness without much recognition. This is despite the fact that the game is being played in the Asian Games since 1951. Though it is being played in Asian Games since long, the women’s category was introduced only in the 2010 Games at Guangzhou.
The inaugural event for women’s water polo saw only three registrations – China, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This meant that the event would have to be dropped if there was no fourth team. China sensed an easy medal opportunity here and the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) approached the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) to fund a very weak Indian team for the event.
The then SFI General Secretary VirendraNanavati brushed it off and said that it was not a sponsorship but just a ‘support for the betterment of the sport’. Not much questions were raised either as the Indian women were selected for the Commonwealth Water Polo Championships earlier the same year – an event which waslater cancelled after teams like England, Canada, New Zealand decided to withdraw. Indian women’s participation in the Asian Games was termed as “exposure”.
India's goalkeeper Siddhi Prabhakar Dahe tries to make a save against an Uzbekistan attack in the women's water polo bronze match at the Asian Games 2010 (Source: Getty Images)
The Chinese Water Polo Association worked strenuously to ensure India’s participation in the event. They spent around INR 6lakh for the travel of a 15 member Indian squad. The visas and travel documents of the players were easily processed at a time when a strong Indian equestrian team was barred from the Games. The women’s water polo team was also provided with accommodation facilities at the Games village itself.
The Asian Games though ended on a sorry note for the Indian women as they finished last in the event. More than that, they conceded a total of 96 goals in three matches while they themselves hit a mere six goals. China and Kazakhstan scored 38 each while Uzbekistan decided to be a bit lenient as they put in only 20. China went on the win the gold as expected while Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan settled for silver and bronze respectively.