Canoe polo might not be known by most Namibians, but the sport has already put the country on the world map after the men’s U-21 national team qualified for the 2020 World Canoe Polo Championship that will take place in Rome, Italy.
Namibia’s U-21 men national team defeated Japan 3-2 in the playoff match of the Canoe Polo Championship on 4 August, 2018 in Welland, Canada to gain automatic qualification to the 2020 Canoe Polo World Championship.
Canoe polo, also known as kayak polo, is one of the competitive disciplines of kayaking.
The sport combines boating and ball handling skills in a contact team game, where tactics and positional play are as important as the speed and fitness of the individual athletes.
It requires excellent teamwork and promotes both general canoeing skills and a range of other techniques unique to the sport.
Each team has five players (and up to three substitutes), who compete to score in their opponents goal which is suspended two metres above water.
The ball can be thrown by hand, or flicked with the paddle to pass between players and shoot at the goal. Pitches can be set up in swimming pools or any stretch of flat water.
Speaking to the Windhoek Observer, founder of canoe polo in Namibia, Anton Jacobie, said he is thrilled with the growth of the sport despite it not being played in all four corners of the country due to lack of sponsorship.
Jacobie, who introduced the sport locally in 1992 at Goreangab Dam in Windhoek, said there are about 200 people playing canoe polo in Namibia.
“I got involved in canoeing in 1992 and we were doing marathon paddling and we practiced on the Goreangab Dam every night.
“In 1996, the City of Windhoek sent us a letter saying that we were not allowed to do any sport on the Goreangab Dam, because it was medically unfit.
“That year, we saw a photo of a person in a boat with a ball in his hand…then we decided to start with canoe polo. After much research, we were able to do this in a swimming pool.
“The next challenge was to get a swimming pool and the needed equipment, the Municipal Swimming Pool at Maerua Mall was there, but we were not granted permission to use it for the sport. Then we contacted the University of Namibia (UNAM) to make use of their swimming pool which they granted us,” Jacobie said.
He believes that it is just a matter of time before the sport starts appealing to the Namibian nation.
“We started with four boys and two adults, and the equipment cost us at that stage N$13,000. These were plastic boats which are not allowed in international competitions, but we desperately wanted to continue with our sport.
“In 1998, we were invited by the International Canoeing Federation to participate in the 3rd Canoe Polo World Championship in Portugal and we ended up in 16th place in the Men’s Open out of the 20 participating countries.”
Jacobie said they started this alternative form of canoeing, because there are no rivers or dams within Windhoek.
“Canoe polo is only one of 10 disciplines of canoeing. At the sea in Swakopmund we have a coastal club that is doing surf ski racing. In Windhoek, we do dragon boating, sprinting, marathon and canoe polo.
“At Rehoboth – Oanob Dam, we are doing rowing sculling, sprinting, marathon and canoe polo and at Noordoewer we are doing marathon and touring.”
He said it is very difficult to develop the sport without money.
“To start a club will cost N$200,000. It is a very high skilled sport – therefore specialised coaching is imperative.
“We tried to develop in the regions, but the people willing to get into this sport want a salary and a company car.”
Jacobie has set a target of at least a top eight finish at the 2020 U-21 world championships.
“Our biggest opponent on the African continent is South Africa, but we have beaten them over the past two years,” Jacobie said.