The water polo rule changes coming into force in 2023

New water polo rule changes introduced by World Aquatics will come into force for all Swim England competitions next year.

The series of changes were agreed by the organisation formerly known as FINA and will apply to all competitions and leagues from 1 January 2023.

Current competitions and league programmes are continuing to apply the 2019-2021 rules, while the Swim England National Age Group Championships will adapt the new regulations.

The British Water Polo League has also confirmed it will use the new rules for phase two of its programme, which starts on 21 January.

The British Swimming Water Polo Delegates Group, in conjunction with GB World Aquatics Referees, has issued the following summary on the key changes.

  • WP1.2 and WP21.10 A new ‘Goal area’ is defined as a rectangular box extending to two metres from the lateral outsides of the goal posts to the two metre line. Ordinary foul if a player goes within the goal area except behind the line of the ball. Players can go inside the 2m line if outside the goal area. 
  • WP5.6 and WP22.2 At any flying or rolling substitution, including in the re-entry area and swapping an excluded player, the two players must visibly high-five each other while in the re-entry area. 
  • WP5.11 (New rule) A player leaving the field of play from the wrong place can come back into play only if waved in by the referee, or after a goal, time out or at the start of the next period. 
  • WP17.2 When there is a counter attack, a player with advantage does not have to give up the advantage to go to the ball and take the free throw, goal throw or corner throw. The next closest player can take the throw as long as there is no undue delay. 
  • WP21.6 Ordinary foul if a player deliberately hides the ball from the opposing team.
    WP21.18 (New rule) Ordinary foul if a player goes under the water to gain positional advantage. 
  • WP22.11 Tactical foul: Exclusion foul if a defending player commits a foul on an opponent with the intent to stop the flow of the attack, anywhere in the field of play. 
  • WP22.14 The wording ‘Violent action’ replaces ‘act of brutality’. 
  • WP23.2 Penalty fouls: The referee can delay whistling and wait to see if the attacking player scores a goal in the same action. If the player does not score, the referee should award the penalty. The referee may raise an arm indicating a possible penalty. 
  • WP23.8 A penalty may be awarded if a defending player deliberately throws the ball away to prevent a probable goal, including if he flicks it into the six metre area to prevent a direct shot. 
  • WP23.9 If a defender fouls from behind as described in WP23.9, the referee must delay the penalty call until the attempted shot is completed. The referee must award a penalty unless the attacking player scores. 
  • WP24.2 At the taking of a penalty throw, all other players must be at least three metre from the thrower and outside the six metre area. The defending team has the first right to take positions on the six metre line. 
  • LEN Instruction 3: Penalty foul if the goalkeeper puts the ball under water within the rectangular area two metres outside the goal posts and out to his six metre line. Exclusion foul if he commits any tactical foul outside this area. Ordinary foul if he puts the ball under outside this area when challenged. 
  • LEN Instruction 4: Penalty foul if an excluded player goes towards his re-entry area and, before reaching it, returns to the game after his team gain possession. As there has been a change of possession, this player will remain on the field of play during the penalty throw. 

Promoters can request an exemption from British Swimming if they wish to vary a specific rule in their competition.

For further enquiries, please contact Chris Stephens, the technical officials lead for the British Water Polo Leadership Group, on 07850 275868 or email