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One of my favorite Honeymooners episodes features Ed Norton and Ralph rehearsing for a play.  At one point Norton has a line containing two words which he pronounces as one word: ‘poloponies’ (which he pronounces pah-lop’-own-ies).  I can never hear the word ‘polo’ without remembering this and giggling.

In Italian it’s called ‘palla’, which means ‘ball,’ not ‘polo’ – but it still makes me chuckle, and pretty often.  Water polo (or pallanuoto, swimming ball) is a big sport all over Europe, and especially in Italy.  There are quasi-professional teams here that, like soccer, are placed in divistions, Serie A and Serie B.

Rapallo, like many other Italian cities, fields (pools?) its own pallanutoto teams.  The men play in Serie B.  The Women?  This will tell you:

Water polo sign

That’s right! The women’s team won the national championship of Italy last year – very exciting.  The sign says: “Rapallo, Champions of Italy 2013, together we realized a dream, thanks girls!  Men’s Pallanuoto – welcome back to A2 [serie]- Go guys!”

The 2013-2014 season is about to begin.  Last week the women gathered for their first workout, and I had a chance to speak very briefly with one of the coaches (it was clearly not a time for chatting; he was very busy).


Coach discussing practice routine with the women

He explained that the pallanuoto teams are not professional in the way that, say, soccer teams are; that is, the players do not receive huge salaries.  “But are they paid?”  I asked.  “They are reimbursed,” which left me not a lot further ahead.  I suspect they are paid some kind of living expenses, but I don’t believe there are any huge salaries.

Two of the coaches discuss training with the women

Two of the coaches discuss training with the women

Swimming warm-up laps

Swimming warm-up laps

There are 10 teams in Serie A in Italy.  There are two divisions in Serie B,, each with 12 teams – one in the north and one in the south.

And that was all I was able to learn about the organization of the sport here in Italy. It was a huge pleasure to watch the women swim their warm up laps – they are strong and graceful.  As one who struggles gamely, but slowly, in a pool, I can only watch with awe.

In the U.S. I believe water polo is played as a club sport, in schools and universities, and of course in the Olympics, where it has been a sport since 1900 (for women  since 1986).  If you’re interested in the details of the game, you can learn about it here.  FINA is the governing body of water polo (as well as other water sports) here in Italy and much of the rest of the world.  They oversee the various tournaments.  I’m hoping to have an opportunity to learn more about it firsthand in the coming weeks.

Years ago we had a young friend who played water polo with his secondary school team.  He told us that we could not imagine what goes on under the water – players who sharpen their toe nails so they can scratch their opponents, trunks being pulled down, anything to gain an advantage without being caught.  I found myself wondering if the same nonsense goes on in the professional games.

It’s clearly a sport enjoyed by many, as this game in the sea at Santa Margherita Ligure suggests:

water polo in santa sea-001

The game above must just be for fun – I don’t think there is a full complement of players present (6 players and 1 goalie per team), unless some are hiding under the water. (Besides, I’ve never heard of a pro team in Santa.) Think how difficult it would be if there were big waves!