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Canoe Polo: How it all began

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According to the International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Polo is “A relatively young sport. The first ever Canoe Polo World Championships were staged in Sheffield, England in 1994.” Now, according the (ICF), “Canoe Polo World Championships are held every two years, with Continental Championships in between.”

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However, in his study of Canoe Polo: A Short History of Canoe Polo: "Boat, Paddle and Ball" Ian Beasley provides a more in-depth point of view. “Today’s canoe polo is a game of thrills and spills that contrasts with the relaxed recreational canoe ball games of the past. The birth of the modern sport could be considered the demonstration games at Duisberg, Germany in 1987. But for over 100 years before this, canoeists played games of boat, paddle, and ball.”

Furthermore, according to Beasley, “Early British magazines record that a variety of canoe ball games were played in Great Britain in the late nineteenth century. Punch, or the London Charivarl, published a woodcut entitled ‘Polo on the Sea’ in 1875. The picture shows men and women in neck-to-knee bathing costumes standing on flat topped, double-hulled vessels competing for the ball with double bladed paddles.”

In addition, “The Graphic, also of London, published an engraving in 1880 entitled ‘Water Polo at Hunter’s Quey, Scotland’. But this was quite different; players sat astride wooden barrels made-up with horses’ heads and tails. Simply staying on the horse was challenging enough as riders were thrown from their uncooperative charges.”

Finally, Beasley adds, “Another picture, ‘Water Polo’, from The Graphic in 1884, shows players in decked canoes.* All of these early games were a novelty, about fun and entertainment, and did not develop into today’s canoe polo.”

Beasley’s last statement beginning with ‘All of these early games were a novelty…’ appears to suggest that even though Canoe Polo has a 100-year history this fact alone does not contradict the information presented by the (ICF). It seems that he wants to make clear that ‘fun and entertainment’ is quite different from professional athletes competing for World Championships.

Therefore, according to the modern interpretation regarding the history of Canoe Polo “The inaugural ICF Canoe Polo World Championships held at Sheffield, England in 1994 showcased the sport with eighteen countries represented. There were eighteen men’s teams and six women’s team.”


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