Canoe polo: Intense, five-a-side action combining multiple sports

Canoe polo is a sport that has grown steadily in the past decade or so. First introduced to local tertiary institutions in the 1980s, its pioneer teams included Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and the National University of Singapore.

From a humble player base of 50-60 players and six teams since its inception, it has expanded to include more than 33 teams and 220 players, the majority of whom are students aged 17-26.

Ahead of the National Canoe Polo Championships finals on Sunday (July 30) at the Singapore Sports School, The Straits Times gives you the low-down of the sport.

Played in a competition area that is 35m long and 23m wide, canoe polo is a pacey, five-a-side team sport that combines canoeing and water polo primarily. However, elements of basketball and rugby can also be found.

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While canoe polo can be practised in pools, the majority of competitions are held in open waters where more space is available for warming up and for multiple games to take place concurrently.

The competitors are divided into zoners (defenders) and chasers (attackers). The objective of the game is to out-score the other team. To score, the player must shoot the ball at a 1.5m-wide and 1m-tall goal frame suspended 2m above the water.

Both sides start at their respective goal lines under the goal posts at each end of the play area. Then, the referee throws the ball in the centre of the pool and on the referee's whistle, the fastest player from each team charges towards the centre to gain possession of the ball.

The play continues until one team scores and the game is restarted by the conceding team at the centre of the pool.

Besides intercepting and blocking passes, participants are allowed to capsize their opponent who is holding the ball by pushing his or her upper shoulder to tip him or her over.

While canoe polo is a heavy contact sport and participants can expect to bump boats, there are strict rules and regulations to prevent rough play and injuries. Equipment such as helmets with face masks and body vests are mandatory, and the canoes' ends are padded.

The referees also have green, yellow and red cards in their arsenal to stamp out foul play. A green card serves as a stern warning, while a yellow card results in a two-minute timeout. A red card sends off the offending player and bans him or her from the next game.

Each match consists of two 10-minute halves and a three-minute break in between. Due to the intense and non-stop action, teams are allowed unlimited running substitutions.