water polo 88 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy, Adi Koren)
European champion Serbia will be amongst eight nations competing in the first top-level international water polo tournament to be held in Israel which begins Thursday.
Russia, which won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, will also participate in the four-day event to be played at the Wingate Institute of Sport, close to Netanya.
Despite fielding the team with the least experience, Israel captain Amit Seker said he has high hopes for the Israel International Water Polo Tournament.
Israel has been paired with Russia, Romania, and Australia in Group A, while Group B includes France, Holland, Serbia and Greece.
"Our biggest competition is Russia, within the teams that we are playing," Seker said.
The 30-year-old veteran of the Israel team believes the tournament will act as a significant boost for Israeli water polo.
All of the teams apart from the Israelis have competed in the Olympics.
"It will be great exposure for the public to water polo," Seker said.
"And, by playing against these stronger teams, [Israel] will progress and improve hugely," Itzik Koren, president of the Israel Water Polo Association, added.
The tournament is being held under the auspices of FINA, the organization which runs international water polo. It starts at 9 a.m. on Thursday with Greece facing France, with an opening ceremony at 6:30 p.m. The event will run through till Sunday when the playoff games will be held followed by a closing ceremony.
"We would like to have make this an annual event, though it seems more likely it will be possible to have it every two years," said Koren. "We have the seven teams that are leaders in the world of water polo so it should be a high quality tournament."
Men's water polo was first introduced to the Olympic games in 1900. Since then it has become a renowned and hugely competitive sport played worldwide, notably in Hungary, Greece, Italy, Russia, the former Yugoslavia, the United States, Canada and Australia.
Although water polo is included in the Maccabiah Games, held in Israel every four years, a competition of this calibre has never been held in this country before.
Koren decided to hold the tournament at the end of 2006 when he represented Israel at a water polo tournament convention held in Holland where the world's top nations decide on venues and participants for friendly competitions.
After Israel was denied entry into a number of tournaments around the world, including in France and Italy, Koren came up with the idea of bringing some of the best teams to Israel.
Koren first approached the Russian delegate,telling told him about Israel's large Russian community and it's welcoming attitude to the Russian people.
Russia was convinced and signed on to participate in Israel's own international water polo tournament, a move which encouraged the other countries to follow suit.