Despite having quite the tradition in water polo, and indeed, being the home of this sport in the country, across the past six years, Barranquilla hasn’t practiced the sport at all in the Olympic Pool. Luckily, just last year, with the designation of the new president of the Atlántico Swimming League, (a former water polo player), it was decided to bring this discipline back to town, back home to Barranquilla.
The first step to rebuild the sport was through communications channels, especially social media, in order to promote all the swimming and diving sports in the city. Once they gained sufficient numbers of people interested in water polo, the League realized they needed to find a structure that would permit a permanent generational change (a renewall) that avoided the huge interruptions in talent detection, so they started working closer with the clubs.
Last year, in a bid to form a competitive Atlántico team for the National Games with experience in tournaments, the League initiated a cup with a national competition involving eight teams drawn from both clubs and departmental selections. They named the tournament “Gonzalo Forero” after a local athlete who performed in the South, Central American and Caribbean games of the 1940’s.
This competition was a huge success and Atlántico finished with a second place spot; the winner was from Antioquia, the region where the sport has has the most traction in the country. After last year’s good experience, the league decided to double down their bets and organize an event with international participants, a great idea because it will help the teams be better prepared to swim against international talent.
The invitation was accepted by three teams from the United States and Puerto Rico. The Island is bringing its national water polo selection; they’re coming to Barranquilla with all their best players, to be spread across two teams to compete in the cup. They chose to come to this competition because the coach wanted that his swimmers to get acquainted with the pool where they will be swimming in the 2018 Central American and Caribbean games.
The other international club that has confirmed its presence is the Miami Beach Water Polo International; who will be coming not only with their American figures but also with some European stars from Serbia, Hungary, and Italy. Other teams from Panama, Peru and Venezuela wanted to come but due problems with the climate, they had to cancel at the last minute.
In this edition of the cup, a total of 32 games will be played. There will be twelve teams, besides the locals and the international representatives; the rest of them will come from Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Bogotá, and Pereira. The two squads from Barranquilla are the traditional water polo clubs, Tsunami and Badia. The matches of the Gonzalo Forero Cup started yesterday on April 27th, and will continue until May 1st.
This time around, there will be only one age category, open to all. Trophies and medals will be awarded to the three top teams, the top scorer, and the best goalie. There will also be special decorations for the best youth player and the top youth scorer in the cup, to motivate them to keep practicing the discipline.
At the press conference, Daniel Paez, President of the Atlántico Swimming League, said that they took the opportunity of the upcoming Central and Caribbean Games to bring the foreign clubs to “La Arenosa.” He noted that all of the teams are enjoying Barranquilla and appreciate its geographical location, so close to the Southern US and yet central in the Caribbean. He hopes that before 2018 the Cup will have acquired enough prestige to sustain more international guests. “We are very proud of our tournament because with only two editions so far, it has become probably the most important in the country. Medellin and Cali have their leagues that are very strong, but none of them have a competition against international rivals as we do,” Paez proudly exclaimed.
The board also mentioned that one of the purposes of the competition is to show Barranquilla’s sports face across the world, and they didn’t avoid talking about the major upgrades that the pool needs. “These kinds of tournaments help to pinch and to pressure the government into doing the renovations needed because they hate leaving a poor image of the city outside the country,” Paez said.
The games began this morning at nine and will run until nine tonight. Tomorrow, there will be the technical congress between the teams and the rest of the regular phase games. On Saturday, the semifinals will run from eight in the morning until seven in the afternoon and the finals will be played on Sunday morning from nine to twelve. Entrance is free, and the organization is hoping for great crowd participation. See below for a map with the location of the Olympic Pool where the games are being held.