A rather unusual sport is gaining momentum in Denmark. Underwater rugby. Yes, it’s real. Very real. And very tough. And leading the way is the Copenhagen-based club Flipper, which came close to winning its first Euro League championship last month.
Mikkel Rasmussen, who is the heart and soul of Flipper (he is the chairman, head coach and a player), has played the sport since 1999 and says it is more popular than ever, even though most people think he is joking when he tells them about it.
All over the world
“I hear that all the time. But since I started until now, the popularity of the sport has increased a lot. It had a big turn when the Europe League was launched three years ago,” Rasmussen told the Weekly Post.
“More and more people are watching it because we are streaming it live and now we have teams from Asia, London, Australia, New Zealand and so on, so it’s really getting going at the moment. Over the last couple of years it’s really taken off around the world.”
Invented in Germany
Invented by a German in 1961, the intense sport involves two teams battling it out underwater as they try to score points by sending a negatively-buoyant ball filled with salt water into their opponents’ goal (a metal bucket at the bottom of the pool).
It is a fast and exhausting game and participants only have a snorkel and a pair of flippers to move about below the surface. Subs replace the players underwater on the fly.
Diving … in a good way
“It started with divers looking for something to do during the winter months when it was too cold to dive. At many of the diving clubs they play underwater rugby for fun and stay in shape, and also when they are educating newcomers.”
“It’s a very strenuous sport. When we play against the Russians, they are very physical and want to fight with the ball a lot, while the Swedes and Norwegians like to pass the ball a lot.”
Thriving Euro league
Rasmussen contends that the sport’s increasing popularity is due to the emergence of the Euro League in 2012, which features the strongest teams in Europe.
In 2012, there were just four teams competing, with Flipper finishing last. In 2013, there were five teams (Flipper were third), while last year the league had grown to seven teams and included teams from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia and Austria.
Thrilling if you can see it
Being able to stream the matches live underwater has also contributed to the sport’s emergence from the murky depths of obscurity to the popularity it enjoys today. But promoting what isn’t really considered a spectator sport in the traditional sense hasn’t been easy.
“It’s pretty difficult. There are a few pools that have a window allowing people to see what’s going on beneath the surface, so spectators have to be in the water, on the sideline or you have to – as we do during tournaments – film the action underwater and stream it.”
Norwegian team Molde are the European titans, losing just three matches over the past five years.
But one of those losses was to Flipper last season and the Danes are closing the gap. They even had a chance to win the championship entering the final round, but ended up losing one of their two matches to finish third.
— A game is two halves of 15 minutes. The clock stops following goals and for penalties
— There are six people in the water from each team at a time and six on the land. — Each player has a partner, so you team up two and two and two: goalies, attackers and defenders
— In the water you have a partner to switch with at the bottom, so there will always be one guy down, one guy up and a partner on land who they can switch with him after making two to four dives
— Players switch at the bottom. One partner dives into the water and taps the other on the shoulder and he goes up to the surface
— The ball may be passed in any direction but must not leave the water