World League Super Final
May 28, 2012 Leave a comment
The super final of this year’s World League tournament will be held from 12-17 June in Almaty, the Soviet-era capital of the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan. This city has a population of approximately 1.45 million out of the country’s total of about 16.6 million. The current capital is Astana with Almaty referred to as a ‘Southern capital’. It is the ninth largest country in the world by land area. It is also the world’s largest landlocked country; its territory is larger than Western Europe.
Interestingly, the name “Almaty” derives from the Kazakh word for ‘apple’ (alma), and thus is often translated as “full of apples”. Alma is also ‘apple’ in other Turkic languages and Hungarian. The older Soviet-era version, ‘Alma-Ata’, combines two Kazakh words, literally ‘Apple-Father’, more loosely Father of Apples. The region is thought to be the ancestral home of the apple, which explains the ‘Alma-Ata’ name.
The country’s large deposits of oil have been a significant source of revenue in recent years. That factor, combined with a small population, made Kazakhstan one of the more economically stable among the newly independent countries that emerged after the Soviet Union’s disintegration. The authorities have been able to allocate substantial funding for sports’ development.
When Kazakhstan was a part of the USSR, its water polo school was among the strongest in the country. In recent years, the local Federation have been making a lot of effort to restore its teams’ strength with the aim of becoming a force to be reckoned with not only in Asia but beyond. Kazakhstan won Asian men’s title and qualified for the Olympic games in London-2012.
Kazakhstan’s first-ever staging of the World League’s super-final is another sign of its Federation’s serious approach towards the sport’s popularization and development. Last year, they also staged an impressive event that commemorated the 30th anniversary of ‘Dynamo’ Alma-Ata’s victory in the USSR’s championship (see ‘Asian Olympic Qualification tournament’ post).
The World League was conceived as an event to promote water polo throughout the world. This is one of the reasons as to why the preliminary rounds are held on a regional-continental basis. In an attempt to enhance the competition’s status, FINA added two additional incentives for its participants:
unlike WC and OG, there is a rather substantial (by the sport’s standard) amount of prize money for the finalists;
the winning team gets to qualify for the next world championships or Olympic games tournament (whichever comes first).
Nevertheless, despite these measures, in the eyes of many, the World League remains a second tier competition to the world championships, Olympic games and even FINA (World) Cup and European championships. Most teams use it as a ‘training’ tournament in their build-up for these events. Some top teams – for example, Hungary (men) – often do not take part in it when they consider that its timing is not well suited for their preparation plans.
In this vein, the Australian domestic calendar could have been better optimized for the needs of the men’s National team and, for that matter, the women team’s too. In the interests of the Olympic squad’s preparation, the National League and other events could have started at least two to three weeks earlier. Along with the week that was allocated to the ‘All Stars’ match, that time would have added 3-4 weeks for rest (10-12 days) after the highly intensive National League period that included the extremely demanding Finals series – followed by proper conditioning work (14 days) for Australian based candidates.
From my observations, the athletes have had to maintain physical and mental exertion by being in a ‘competitive’ phase for the last six months, and with the upcoming Olympiad, it will have been eight months. There have not been reasonable ‘recovery’ and ‘pre-competitive’ periods during which the athletes have regenerated both physically and mentally prior to the final cycle that would have included the Olympic tournament.
The recently published Australian Sports Commission’s Review of the National League emphasized as a priority the Australian team’s needs over everything else. The above-mentioned adjustments would have made the Olympic squad’s overall preparation better structured and more conducive for the likelihood of arriving in London in top shape.
From the Australian perspective, the World League annual tournaments have been beneficial since they provided opportunities to play against some of the World’s best teams (but only in the final stage because in the last several years Australia’s preliminary matches have been in the ‘Asian’ group that does not feature top teams). The last time Australia played against a team that is ranked among the top eight in the world was last January (the USA).
What makes the upcoming World League super final more interesting is that five teams from the Olympiad tournament’s preliminary group ‘A’ – in which Australia is drawn – will be in Almaty. There, Australia gets to play against Croatia and Spain with the possibility of being tested against Italy and Kazakhstan too (see ‘Men’s London Olympic Draw – Australia’s perspective’). The other 3 participants are the USA, China and Brazil – the latter two are not going to London.
This event, along with other tournaments, presents the participants with the opportunity to have a good look at each other and check their systems prior to the Olympic games commencement.