CEO Corner: Sport isn’t always your best friend

(02.09.2015) – In the last month we have learnt that sport can be a cruel beast. Fairytale endings more often than not belong on the Disney Channel and there are few, if any substitutes for years of hard work and the daily grind that is often overlooked when the commentators proclaim ‘overnight success’.

Don’t be thrown off by the nonchalant opening to this edition of CEO Corner, in sport there are always stories of success and struggles and unfortunately for a handful of our teams the past month has seen them encounter character building results.

It isn’t all that long ago that our mighty women, the Aussie Stingers claimed a silver medal at the 2013 FINA World Championships, but this time around in Kazan, Russia the team weren’t able to come home with a medal despite their resilience and tenaciousness, the characteristics required to plant a foot on the podium.

What we took away from Kazan is that the difference between a medal or place in the top four is but a mere few inches from a heartbreaking loss and for both the Stingers and our men’s team, the Aussie Sharks, it was wayward penalty shootouts that handed them the results that belie their true ability.

The Sharks have come a long way in the past 24 months under the guidance of coach Elvis Fatovic and his defensive mantra. Our men now sustain a strong defensive stance, mistakes are less frequent and a willingness borne from fitness is unquestioned.

But even with their arrival as a genuine contender, 14 seconds and a subsequent penalty shootout was the difference between the top four and a seventh-place playoff.  The quarterfinal loss was shattering for a men’s team that have made their more fancied European opponents take notice in the recent past.

While results didn’t go our way I would like to extend my congratulations to our women’s captain Bronwen Knox who played her 300th game for Australia against the Netherlands. This is an outstanding achievement that sees Bron join Melissa Rippon as the only other athlete to play more than 300 games. By Rio Bron will be the most capped women’s player in Australian history.

Although it’s easy to get caught up in what our seniors are doing, we need to be mindful that while the next Olympics is less than a year away, we are also on the precipice of a new Olympic cycle and the future of our sport is looking bright.

Last month our women’s World University Games team won the gold medal at the 28th Summer Universiade in Gwangju, Korea under the guidance of coach Eddie Denis, underscoring the talent that is waiting in the wings for our future Olympic campaigns.

While the team experienced the highest of highs in Gwangju, the FINA World Women’s Junior Water Polo Championships in Volos, Greece that followed drove home the cruelty that waits in the shadows of success, the team finishing ninth after battling through the toughest group stage at the tournament (that surprisingly had four of the most dominant nations grouped together), before falling on the wrong side of Spain in a crossover game that dashed their hopes of a medal.

With the junior women done for the year, our attention now turns to our junior men who begin their world championships is Almaty, Kazan on Friday September 4 and I wish them luck in bettering their result of seventh from the World University Games.

On the domestic front we have announced that the respective men’s and women’s 2016 National Water Polo League premierships will be decided in Victoria, with the Victorian Seals, Water Polo Victoria and the Victorian Government teaming to host the finals on the second weekend in March next year.

Additionally the Seals continue to push new initiatives in our sport and along with thebeyondblue Cup will also host the inaugural ‘Pride Cup’ to celebrate diversity in our sport. The Pride Cup will make us the first sporting code in Australia to include an official LGBTI pride round as part of a national premiership. Congratulations to everyone that has helped to make this a possibility.

We are also nearing the completion of upgrading one of our most important communicative tools – our website. Much work has gone into designing a platform that is fluid and easy to use and we expect to launch our new site later this month. After seeing it coming together I can say that the look, feel and functionality is a significant step forwards with the website geared equally towards mobile responsiveness as it is for use on a computer.

Finally I would like to highlight a new project that we are piloting at the upcoming 16 and Under National Club Championships this month named ‘Think. Act. Play’.

Think. Act. Play has been designed to promote positive behaviours by athletes, coaches, spectators and officials in order to uphold the values, reputation and spirit of water polo. Throughout the tournament you will see signage and information materials at each of the pools as well as regular updates via our website and social media platforms.

There will be workshops and information sessions for coaches and athletes at the tournament and we encourage parents to attend the athlete sessions as well.

Feedback from this pilot program will help guide the development of a national program. We want water polo to remain a respectful sport where athletes play hard and play fair; everyone should remember to THINK before you speak, ACT with respect and PLAY within the spirit of the game.

Until next time, I hope you score some goals.

Chris Harrison

CEO – Water Polo Australia