Water-polo: Rule changes may affect golden run

SINGAPORE - They have won every water polo gold medal at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games since 1965.

But Singapore's position as the kingpins of water polo in the region may face its biggest threat at the December SEA Games in Myanmar.

Coupled with the improvements from other teams in the region, a recent slew of rule changes - which will reduce the physicality of the game - were passed during the Fina technical water polo congress in Barcelona in July this year.

National men's coach and former national player Lee Sai Meng said: "(The rule changes) could well be our biggest challenge since the SEA (SEAP) Games started. The new rules are a big question mark for us because we wouldn't know what to expect since the SEA Games will be the first time they will be applied for us.

"Physicality has been a significant part of our playing style and (the new rules) will make the game more technical now."

On a recent training trip to Hungary, Singapore sparred with a local team and watched local league games where the new rules were applied.

Despite the learning experience, Lee expects a challenging few months ahead, until teams and referees get used to the changes.

And it could well present the other sides in South-east Asia a chance to catch up.

While the Republic defended their gold medal at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia with a 15-7 trouncing of Malaysia, the hosts gave them a big scare by making the Singaporeans work for their 12-11 win in an earlier encounter.

Nevertheless, Lee said that the team are still aiming to win the gold and hoping to step up at the Asian level.

Singapore start their Asian Water Polo Cup campaign against the Philippines at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex today.

While the old rules will be used at the competition, under the direction of the Asia Swimming Federation, the tournament will be the final taste of competitive action for Singapore's polo boys before the SEA Games.

Lee is aiming for a podium finish in the six-nation competition, featuring Singapore, China, Iran, Kuwait, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

He has incoporated two Under-17 players - Samuel Yu and Sean Ang - into his squad, which will essentially be the Games-bound team.

He said: "Iran, Kuwait, as well as China will be very strong, but we are aiming for a top-three finish here... and a win tomorrow against the Philippines is a must."

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