The South African Canoe Polo Championships get underway at Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg over the weekend of the 7 – 8 March with the traditionally strong Gauteng sides starting as favourites to win back the national crowns.
An understrength team from KwaZulu-Natal has tilted the scales in favour of the home sides, which will look to capitalise on hometown support and familiarity with the polo pitches at the Emmarentia dam.
With the 2014 Canoe Polo World Championships in France being the most popular ever the sport is capturing the attention of people worldwide as well as locally after South Africa took three teams to 2014 World Champs and with selection for the 2015 showpiece up for grabs players will be hoping to impress over the weekend. So popular is the sport in Europe that the 2014 world champs was attended by approximately 10 000 spectators and around 600 athletes.
The main rivalry has historically been between KZN and Gauteng since the sport started in the 1980’s but the Western Cape has started to become competitive in the last three years and polo in Knysna has suddenly grown in player numbers also owing to the stunning venue.
Namibia also represents Africa at the world champs and the Africa champs has also enjoyed some healthy cross-border rivalry.
The 2014 national championships was a tense affair with the rivalry between KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng coming to a head in the final as the hosts managed to pull off a narrow 4-2 win in the final of the Men’s competition whilst it was KZN who did the double when they won the Women’s title fending off the Gauteng side once again to claim the spoils.
It was the first time in two years that the side from the East Coast had managed to get one over their Highveld rivals and they will have their work cut out for them if they are to defend their title in 2015 with the unknown quantity of a development side coming up from the Western Cape as well as the hosts providing a stern test.
With five major Canoe Polo events for players in South Africa the South African Championships is a great way to get into the season with the Durban International, the Knysna Canoe Polo Challenge, the African Champs and then the World Champs being the major focuses throughout the season.
The national side returned from France after the World Champs with some valuable experience and the teams understood that there was a gulf between themselves and the best in the world and with a competitive national championships involving the members of those various national teams then the discipline can only benefit into the future.