For a sport that is thriving in high schools across the country water polo is struggling to take off at a professional level.
College Sport New Zealand recorded more than 200 water polo teams in 2011 but there are only six senior men’s teams in the post-high-school national league.
Auckland Junior Water Polo Development manager James Davidson says an extra 979 players took up the sport at a junior level between 2011 and 2012.
“From what schools and the public are telling me I would strongly expect to see this growth continue throughout 2012 and 2013.”
Kurt Goldsworthy, who coaches the National Senior Men’s team, puts the lack of professional players down to the “user pays” nature of the sport.
Goldsworthy says players often decide after about two or three years that they have spent too much money and want to move on with their lives. Buying houses, starting careers and having babies being the most common reasons.
Goldsworthy says lack of access to training facilities is also a contributing factor.
“You need deep water pools to play in and they just aren’t around. It’s not like rugby or soccer when you can just go down to the park.”
Sport manager for ASB College Sport Michelle Mclean says high costs are inevitable when playing water polo.
“Water polo is one of the more expensive sports due to pool costs. Anything with a specific venue is high cost, hockey turfs for example.”
Even though the sport is popular at a high school level, Goldsworthy says many men are choosing not to continue any further with water polo in favour of pursuing other sporting codes.
“Waterpolo is a big man’s sport. Our big men choose to go and play rugby or league.”
Jonny Clarke, 21, who plays for the North Habour Senior Men’s team, says right now it would be impossible to turn water polo into a career in New Zealand.
“In order for it to be possible our high performance programme needs funding and sponsorship to allow people to continue to train at a high level without financial constraints being an issue.
“This would increase the time people can spend playing water polo and allow younger players to see that they have a bit of a future in the sport which will hopefully lift training intensity.”
Next year the national team will be competing in the Federation Internationale De Natation (FINA) World Championships in Barcelona, the best result they have achieved in the past being 15 out of 16 teams.
The trip, in July 2013, will cost each player around $12,000, which they must meet themselves.