Blood in the Water match

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The "Blood in the Water" match (Hungarian: melbourne-i vérfürdő lit. Blood bath of Melbourne; Russian: Кровь в бассейне, romanizedKrov' v basseyne, lit. 'Blood in the swimming pool') was a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The match took place on 6 December 1956 against the background of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and saw Hungary defeat the USSR 4–0. The name was coined after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor emerged during the last two minutes with blood pouring from above his eye after being punched by Soviet player Valentin Prokopov.


Tensions were already high between the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams, as the Soviets had taken advantage of their political control of Hungary to study and copy the training methods and tactics of the Olympic champion Hungarians.[1]

Then, on 23 October 1956, a demonstration by students of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics escalated into an uprising against the government in Budapest. On 1 November, Soviet tanks began rolling into Hungary and from 4 to 10 November forces began suppressing the uprising with air strikes, artillery bombardments, and tank-infantry actions.

At the time, the Hungarian water polo team was in a mountain training camp above Budapest. They were able to hear the gunfire and see smoke rising. The players were the defending Olympic champions; with the Summer Olympics in Melbourne two months away, they were moved into Czechoslovakia to avoid being caught in the revolution.[2] The players only learned of the true extent of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown after arriving in Australia and they were all anxious for news of friends and family.

By the start of the Olympics, the uprising had been suppressed and many players saw the Olympics as a way to salvage pride for their country. "We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country", said Zádor after the match.[3] The match was played in front of a partisan crowd bolstered with expatriate Hungarians (many of whom had been in the boxing arena before to see the Hungarian László Papp)[4] as well as Australians and Americans, two of the Soviet Union's Cold War opponents.

The match[edit]

6 December 1956  Soviet Union 0–4  Hungary Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre
A whistle came, I looked at the referee, I said 'What's the whistle for?' And the moment I did that, I knew I'd made a horrible mistake. I turned back and with a straight arm, he just smacked me in the face. He tried to punch me out. I saw about 4,000 stars. And I reached to my face and I felt warm blood pouring down. And I instantly said, 'Oh my God, I won't be able to play the next game.'

Ervin Zádor[5]

In the morning before the start, the Hungarians had created a strategy to taunt the Russians, whose language they had studied in school. In the words of Ervin Zádor: "We had decided to try and make the Russians angry to distract them."[6]

From the beginning, kicks and punches were exchanged. At one point, a punch thrown by Hungarian captain Dezső Gyarmati was caught on film.[6] Meanwhile, Zádor scored two goals to the crowd's cheers of Hajrá Magyarok! ("Go Hungarians!").

With one minute remaining in the match, Hungary was leading 4–0. Zádor was marking Valentin Prokopov, with whom he had already exchanged words, and a whistle was blown. In the intermission, Prokopov struck him, causing a bleeding gash. Zádor left the pool; his bleeding was the final straw for a crowd already in frenzy. Many angry spectators jumped onto the concourse beside the water, shook their fists, shouted abuse and spat at the Russians.[7][8][9][10][11][12] To avoid a riot, police entered the arena and shepherded the crowd away.

External images
Ervin Zádor leaving the pool with a cut eye (National Library of Australia).[13]
First-aid officer escorting Ervin Zádor to the medical room for treatment of his cut eye (National Library of Australia).[13]
Ervin Zádor in the medical room, receiving treatment, protected by a police officer (National Library of Australia)[13]
Ervin Zádor’s cut eye (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]
Ervin Zádor’s cut eye (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]
Spectators invading the concourse (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]
Spectators invading the concourse (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]
Spectators invading the concourse (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]
Spectators invading the concourse (Public Record Office Victoria)[13]

Pictures of Zádor's injuries were published around the world, leading to the "Blood in the Water" moniker.[14] Reports that the water in the pool turned red were, however, an exaggeration. Zádor said his only thought was whether he would be able to play the next match.[15]

The referees stopped the match; Hungary was declared the winner since they had been leading. Hungary then beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final to win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Zádor's injury forced him to miss the match. After the event was completed, he and some of his teammates defected to the West.[1][16][17][18][19]

In film[edit]

In 2006, for the 50th anniversary of the attempted Hungarian Revolution, the documentary Freedom's Fury, produced by Kristine Lacey and Thor Halvorssen, told the story of the match.[20] Quentin Tarantino described it as "the best untold story ever".[21] The documentary was narrated by the Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, who, as a teenager had been coached by Ervin Zádor.

Also in 2006, a feature film about the match was released, entitled Children of Glory (Hungarian title: Szabadság, szerelem, meaning "Freedom, love", after the lines of Sándor Petőfi, the martyred poet of the 1848–49 revolution[citation needed]). The movie shows the Hungarian Revolution through the eyes of a player on the water polo team and a young woman who is one of the student leaders. It was directed by Krisztina Goda, and produced by Andrew G. Vajna.[22] The movie appeared in Hungarian cinemas on 23 October 2006, the 50th anniversary of the revolution.[23] On 29 October 2006, it was shown at the White House for President George W. Bush and guests (including Hungarian-American figures such as George Pataki, Governor of New York, and George A. Olah, Nobel Prize winner).[24]

The incident also features in the 1978 Australian film Newsfront.[25]


  1. ^ a b Simon Burnton (28 December 2011). "50 stunning Olympic moments No7: Hungary v Soviet Union: blood in the water". The Guardian.
  2. ^ Ron Fimrite (28 July 1996). "A bloody war that spilled into the pool". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  3. ^ Abrams, Roger I. (2013). Playing Tough: The World of Sports and Politics. UPNE. p. 6. ISBN 9781555537531.
  4. ^ Dunai, Marton (12 March 2012). "FEATURE-Olympics-Water polo's Gyarmati recalls last London Games". Reuters. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Blood in the water: Hungary's 1956 water polo gold". BBC News. 20 August 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  6. ^ a b Mike Rowbottom (2 December 2006). "Ervin Zador: Blood in the water (interview)". The Independent. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  7. ^ "Cold War violence erupts at Melbourne Olympics". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 December 1956. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  8. ^ Riot Narrowly Avoided at Olympic Pool, The Canberra Times, (Friday, 7 December 1956), p.1
  9. ^ Olympic Games Peace Shattered: Fists Fly in Pool Fracas, The Argus, (Friday, 7 December 1956), pp.1,3.
  10. ^ Hungarian Injured in Polo, The Age, (Friday, 7 December 1956), p.1.
  11. ^ Player Punched in Rough Water Polo, The Age, (Friday, 7 December 1956), p.1.
  12. ^ That evening, a similar anti-Russian protest occurred during a fencing match between Hungarian Pál Kovács and Russian Lev Kuznetsov at the St Kilda Town Hall: Mr. Brundage hears crowd hoot Russian, The Argus, (Friday, 7 December 1956), p.14; Tireless Hungarian Takes Sabre Title: Appeal to Crowd, The Age, Friday, 7 December 1956), p.12.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  14. ^ Knight, Matthew (2 March 2012). "'Blood in the water' - Hungary's sporting battle against Soviet oppression". CNN. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  15. ^ Reid, Kirsty (20 August 2011). "Blood in the water at the 1956 Olympics". BBC News. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  16. ^ Nine Hungarians Miss First Plane for Home, The Canberra Times, (Saturday, 8 December 1956), p.3.
  17. ^ Hungarians Stay Behind, The Age, (Monday, 10 December 1956), p.1.
  18. ^ 46 Hungarians Refuse to go Home, and . . . Security Men Guard "Village", The Argus, (Monday, 10 December 1956), p.3.
  19. ^ Security Guard for Hungarian Athletes, The Canberra Times, (Tuesday, 11 December 1956), p.3.
  20. ^ Krastev, Nikola (5 May 2006). "Hungary: New Film Revisits 1956 Water-Polo Showdown". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Freedom's Fury". Pacific Cinémathèque. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  22. ^ Children of Glory at AllMovie
  23. ^ Lemercier, Fabien (3 November 2006). "Children of Glory gets off to sensational start". Cineuropa. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Guest List for the "Children of Glory" Screening and Dinner". The White House. 30 October 2006. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Monday, July 30". Sydney Morning Herald. 25 July 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2018.

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