Underwater rugby

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Underwater Rugby
Underwater rugby match in Norway.
Highest governing bodyCMAS
First played1961, Cologne, Germany
Team members12 (6 in play)
Mixed-sexYes, except at elite levels
Equipmentdiving mask, snorkel, fins, water polo cap.
VenueSwimming pool
Underwater rugby "pitch"

Underwater rugby (UWR) is an underwater team sport. During a match two teams try to score a negatively buoyant ball (filled with saltwater) into the opponents’ goal at the bottom of a swimming pool. It originated from within the physical fitness training regime existing in German diving clubs during the early 1960s and has little in common with rugby football except for the name. It was recognised by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) in 1978 and was first played as a world championship in 1980.


It is played under water in a pool with a depth of 3.5 m to 5 m and goals (heavy metal buckets with a diameter of about 40 cm) at the bottom of the pool. Two teams (blue and white), each with six players (plus six substitutes), try to score a goal by sending the slightly negatively buoyant ball (filled with saltwater) into the opponents’ goal. It is a fast and exhausting game; therefore, the subs replace their players on the fly.

The ball may be passed in any direction but must not leave the water. It "flies" about 2 m or 3 m before water resistance stops it. This makes good tactics and good (three-dimensional) positioning essential. The players need all sorts of different abilities: strength, speed, agility or good teamplay are all similarly important.[1]


In 1961 a member of the German Underwater Club (DUC) in Cologne, Ludwig von Bersuda, came up with the idea of an underwater ball game. Air-filled balls are not suitable for underwater games, as they are buoyant and always return to the surface. The first underwater ball was invented when Bersuda filled the ball with saltwater. Since the density of the ball was now greater than that of normal water, it no longer floated to the surface, but slowly sank to the bottom. The sink rate could, within certain limits, be controlled by the concentration of the salt solution. As footballs are too large to be practical, waterpolo balls are used.

Ludwig von Bersuda spanned the middle of the pool with a net, as in volleyball, that stopped 1 m above the pool bottom. Two teams played against each other: the offensive team had to carry the ball to the opposing field and put it into a bucket. The idea for the game was ready, and the DUC Cologne used it to warm up before normal training. Other teams saw this and started to use saltwater-filled balls themselves.

The "Cologne Discipline" was demonstrated as a competition sport at the national games in 1963, probably the first official game with an underwater ball. At the time, though, there was not much interest shown.

Dr. Franz Josef Grimmeisen, a member of the German Underwater Club in Duisburg, a city near Cologne, decided to make a competitive sport from this ball game. The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) of Mülheim (since 1967 TSC Mülheim/Ruhr) had founded a divers' club, and through contact with members of DUC Duisburg learned of the game. With their help, Grimmeisen arranged the first underwater rugby game on Sunday October 4, 1964. It took place between DLRG Mülheim and DUC Duisburg. DUC Duisburg won the game 5–2. The next edition of the Essener Tageblatt carried the story.

Grimmeisen kept promoting the ideas of an underwater rugby tournament to give the sport a character of serious competition. Together with the scuba-diving section of the DUC Mülheim/Ruhr, to which six players of DUC Duisburg came, he organized the first underwater rugby tournament rules, and the "Battle for the Golden Ball" in Hallenbad Sued, in Mülheim/Ruhr. The premiere was on November 5, 1965. Six clubs sent teams to Mülheim: DUC Bochum; DUC Düsseldorf, DUC Duisburg, DUC Essen and TSC Delphin Lüdenscheid. The rules of those days allowed 8-player teams, and DLRG Mülheim, the home team, came away winners, against DUC Duisburg (for whom Dr. Grimmeisen played).

The tournament has been held every year since then, which makes it the oldest tournament in the history of the sport. The Cologne version of the game was only played for a short time thereafter in Cologne, and has been long since forgotten. The Cologne team itself also turned to underwater rugby. To bring this game to the international arena, Grimmeisen turned to the two then most important members of CMAS, France and the USSR. He offered demonstration games and press coverage. Interest was not forthcoming. Just one French sport magazine, L'Equipe, printed a short article in its April 9, 1965 edition.

The Scandinavian countries showed more interest, and adopted the ideas in relatively short time. A demonstration in Denmark in 1973 and in Finland in 1975 were effective. Games in Belgium in September 1973 and Vienna in 1979 were ineffective in generating interest. In the Eastern Bloc, only Czech teams were interested, and they, according to the politics of the time, played only against teams from other communist countries. The only tournament known to have taken place there is the Underwater Rugby Tournament in Prague, which has taken place every year since 1975 (with the exception of 1979). In later years, Polish teams participated as well, and teams from East Germany, who used the game for conditioning, sent observers.

Since 1972, when the game was recognized as a sport by the Union of German Sport Divers (VDST), official German Championships have taken place. (An unofficial German Championship took place in 1971.) The first German Championship was held in Mülheim, and the first German Champions were TSC Mülheim.

In 1978, underwater rugby was officially recognized by CMAS, and from 28 to 30 April 1978, the first European Championships took place in Malmö, Sweden, and from 15 to 18 May 1980, the first World Championships in Mülheim.

A different version of the current waterpolo became popular in the US, similar to underwater rugby, until US teams conformed to the international waterpolo rules around 2014.[1][2]

The sport has little in common with rugby football except for the name.[3]

Governing body[edit]

The governing body is the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) Underwater Rugby Commission.[4] As of June 2013, the following countries and territories have affiliated with the commission: Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States of America and Venezuela.[5]

International competition[edit]

Major championships have been conducted at continental level within Europe for senior teams since 1978 and for junior teams since 1986. World championships have been conducted since 1980. A number of regional competitions are also conducted - these include the International Underwater Rugby Tournament and the Champions Cup in Europe and the North American Underwater Rugby Tournament in North America.[6][7][8]

Defensive tackle during an underwater rugby match in Sydney, Australia

European Underwater Rugby League[edit]

In the 1st season, four strongest clubs of Europe take part at European Underwater Rugby League: Swedish Malmo, Norwegian Molde, Danish Flipper and Russian Betta. The first winner of the European Underwater Rugby League, on the results of three rounds - became the Norwegian Molde. Competitions were held in three rounds, in Finland, Norway and Denmark.

In the 2nd season Swedish Polisen participated to Euroleague. Norwegian Molde was won European Underwater Rugby League the 2nd time. Competitions were held in three rounds, in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

In the 3rd season Norwegian Akkaren and Austrian Wien participated to Euroleague. Norwegian Molde was won European Underwater Rugby League the 3rd time. Competitions were held in three rounds, in three European capitals: Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.

In the 4th season Finish Tampere and Turkish EGE UWR Wien participated to Euroleague. Norwegian Molde was won European Underwater Rugby League the 4th time. Competitions were held in three rounds in Hameenlinna, Molde and Copenhagen.

In the 5th season Germans TSV Malsch participated to Euroleague. Also 3 more teams wanted to participate too, but the decision of League Managers was that 10 teams is maximum for 3 Rounds tournament. Norwegian Molde was won European Underwater Rugby League the 5th time. Competitions were held in three rounds, in Copenhagen, Vienna and Tampere.

In the 6th season Germans DUC Krefeld, Danish Tudserne, Norwegian Egersund UVK, Greek Fysalis participated to the 1st ever Qualification Round. Qualification Round were held at Copenhagen. Tudserne and DUC Krefeld took 1st and 2nd place and participated to the Main League. Competitions were held in three rounds, in Krefeld, Malmo and Izmir. Danish Tudserne won European Underwater Rugby League for the 1st time.

In the 7th season Finish Urheilusukeltajat participated to Euroleague. Norwegian Molde was won European Underwater Rugby League the 6th time. Competitions were held in three rounds, in Helsinki, Krefeld and Copenhagen.

In the 8th season Turkish EGE University participated to Euroleague. For the first time, the Euroleague round took place in Belgrade. The season was canceled due to the pandemic.

History of creation. Written by co-Founder of Euroleague Anton Churzin in the year 2013.

On the creation of an underwater rugby tournament for the first time I thought in 2005, following my first major international tournament - the European Championships in Helsinki. Of course, I did not think at the time that it would be called the Euroleague. Me and Viktor Krylov were 18 years old and we played in the team that lost all the games and had not scored any goals, so even if we had any master plan to create a new league we would not have anyone to listen, and moreover let us play in this league. Therefore, all was limited by our reasoning that the level of the major international competitions in underwater rugby is very low and this approach will never be able to bring the sport to a new level.

As time passed, our youth team has won three European Championships (2007,2008,2009) , essentially as the same team we played in adult tournaments. It is not difficult to guess that among youth teams our prestige was high, someone might not have liked us, but the reigning champion was respected. In 2008 for the first time we discussed the creation of underwater rugby league with Iver (Iver Bjornerem, in 2006 and 2007 captain of the youth team of Norway, the 2008 coach of Norway, the World Champion in 2011). He very positively perceived our ideas, and it was evident that the three of us think in the same direction. However, even Iver, who played at that point in the main squad of the national team of Norway, which is constantly fighting for first place in all competitions, had not an opportunity to promote our ideas.

In August 2010 died our friend, Captain of golden junior team in 2008 - Nikita Semenov. Thinking of rugby in that year was unbearable, but we found strength and in September held the first game of the Semenov Cup between the two best Russian teams Betta (Moscow) and Aquanavt (Tula). Drawing of the tournament ended on 12 December 2010. And here we realized that the Semenov Cup may not meet our most demanding dreams of an international league, but this is really the best of all international tournaments, which we visited. In 2011 began, perhaps, the real work on the League, but it was slow and perhaps even half-heartedly, because along the way we had to solve the problems of financing the club, the organization of the training process, and more. However, by November 2011, we had various options of the calendar, list of teams that we see in this tournament, and the name European Underwater Rugby League appeared just then. In general, everything was ready, except only the financial part, because we understood that if we make this tournament with prize money, no one would reject. But we decided to take the risk and submit a draft of our league to six teams that we have seen in this league. Molde (Norway) Malmo (Sweden) PI (Denmark) Bamberg (Germany) Hameenlinna (Finland). Sixth team was our - Betta. We did it on the Champions Cup on November 26, 2011. The moment was a success-we beat one of the leaders, and most importantly the potential participant of the Euroleague- Malmö and proceeded from the group of death into the semifinals. As a result, fourth place in the European Champions Cup and, perhaps, at the very moment we turned from the young and hopeful team in European eyes to the team claiming for medals. Although they may have not considered so.

And then began the letters from the teams with questions and ideas, we went to the little trick saying Euroleague will surely be as Hameenlinna and Betta have already agreed to play. Deadline for application was May 2012. Swedes from Malmo were first to respond, in December 2011,and by the constructive questions that they asked, it became clear that the guys are serious. In January, the website euwrl.com was registered. By May, we received applications from Molde (Norway) Malmo (Sweden) Hameenlinna (Finland) and Betta. The calendar was ready and match dates and location of the rounds. As well as all the financial elements, the entry fee, payment for rent of the pools, video and more. Also was approved and started to work the management system of the Euroleague. It included four managers, one from each team, with equal rights. In June, we received a letter from the team Flipper (Denmark) to include them in the Euroleague. All 4 managers voted unanimously - agree. So in the Euroleague appeared the fifth team.

Everything was going suspiciously well, honestly, presenting the league in November 2011, we never dreamed that in 2012 we hold the first round. And my fears that all is suspiciously well, came true. In late August, or a little more than a month before the start, the Finnish team refused to participate. All in all, anything can be played with 4 teams, not 5. But the first round was to be held right in Finland. Instead we tried to arrange a tour instead of the Finnish tour, in Copenhagen, but Flipper failed to negotiate the pool rent in such a short period of time. There was only one option to carry out the round in Finland, we have the benefit of 10 years of participation in the Finnish league and we were well acquainted with the country. But imposed another unpleasant moment of agreement- to pay the rent of water was the organizer of the home round. So now the Finnish round was home for Betta. We tried to rent the cheapest pool in Tampere, but he was busy on the desired date. In the end, we managed to negotiate only with the most expensive place - a swimming pool in Hameenlinna. All this took about 2 weeks and the rest of the teams were visibly nervous, the Norwegian team even proposed to postpone the launch until next year. But we were able to convince everyone that it is necessary to begin now.

On October 6, 2012 in the Finnish city of Hämeenlinna, we held the first ever round of the Euroleague, and on the side of the pool for all games stood the Semenov Cup - the main prize.

Domestic competition[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Why is underwater rugby the new generation of water sports, and where should you try it?". Underwater Rugby on Kinja. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  2. ^ "vintage UWRugby". New Zealand Underwater Rugby Association. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  3. ^ "About Underwater Rugby". Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  4. ^ 'Rugby', http://www.cmas.org/underwater-rugby, retrieved 30/08/2012.
  5. ^ "Federations (Underwater rugby)". Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  6. ^ "Championships Archive". CMAS. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  7. ^ "3rd. North American Underwater Rugby Tournament Results". USA Underwater Rugby. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  8. ^ "CHAMPIONS CUP". championscup@uwr24.de. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  9. ^ "Underwater rugby Luxembourg". Underwater rugby Luxembourg. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  10. ^ "Unterwasserrugby Schweiz". Underwaterrugby Switzerland. Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  11. ^ "UWR Tiszavirág SE". UWR Tiszavirág SE - Underwater rugby. Retrieved 27 January 2016.

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