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WATCH: What is canoe polo and why does Granite City Canoe Club want to develop the sport in the north-east?

Granite City Canoe Club recently hosted the first indoor canoe polo tournament since pre-Covid and is now aiming to grow the sport locally.

Ross Barron founded Granite City Canoe Club in 2019 as a single canoe water polo team, with the club growing in January 2020 as it began hosting more pool sessions as a way to encourage more people to take up the sport.

Canoe polo is a five-a-side ball sport played in kayaks on a 35 metre by 23 metre body of water that requires fast-pace paddling, boat control and teamwork.

With teams competing over two 10-minute halves, the aim is to score in the opponent’s net which is measured 1.5 metres by 1 metre, and suspended 2 metres above the water.

While canoe polo looks extreme, Barron insists “it’s not any more dangerous than football” and thinks the niche would appeal to anyone who loves to be active.

The Granite City Canoe Club’s chairman has played canoe polo locally for ten years and he believes that getting more people involved in the sport is vital to its growth and advancement in Scotland.

Granite City Canoe Club chairman Ross Barron, founded the club in 2019.

He said: “It’s getting people through the door and trying it which is the issue, but it’s what the sport needs.

“We have got a programme where we teach people how to paddle and then introduce the ball at a very basic level.

“Anybody who likes being involved in a team, physically active and being in the water would really enjoy polo.

“It’s very good for teamwork skills because in some sports when you have one really dominant player then it doesn’t really matter the standards that team will just win. But polo really is a team sport, no one player can tip the balance.

“When it’s done properly, it’s a very inclusive sport. It’s a mixed-gender sport and there’s a lot of tactics involved which can outclass strength.

“I would describe it as kind of netball in kayaks, it’s the closest way to describe it because it’s the same principle. You just happen to be in boats rather than running.

“It’s a very skilled ball game that requires a lot of teamwork and very good hand-eye coordination.”

Granite City hosts Scotland’s return to indoor canoe polo

The north-east of Scotland usually hosts two indoor canoe polo tournaments every year, but Covid-19 put a halt to the competitions for over 18 months.

In late November 2021, Granite City Canoe Club became the first club in Scotland to host an indoor tournament since the beginning of the pandemic, after Barron took it upon himself to organise a competition.

Granite City Canoe Club. Picture by Paul Glendell

He hoped the tournament, branded the Granite Clash, would be an opportunity for experienced players to return to the sport, but also a way to encourage people to come along and try canoe polo for the first time.

Barron explained: “Due to the lack of clubs wanting to do anything this year because of Covid, I decided to take it upon myself to try and run an indoor tournament.

“It was with the idea that as a sport we need to get back competing, especially in an indoor pool to try and encourage new people to come and compete.

“A big aspect of the sport is being tackled or pushed upside down when you have the ball so being inside rather than being in the cold outdoors, it’s pretty easy to know where new players would prefer to play.

“It was the first time anyone in the UK has competed in an indoor pool since March 2020, so we’re very happy with that.

“There was a huge diversity in experience, with returning players and new players coming in so it was very good.

More support will create better opportunities for new players

Although the tournament was a success with eights teams from across Scotland travelling to Bridge of Don to compete, Barron admits that post-competition is where his challenge will lie as he has to find a way to keep encouraging people to return to the sport.

Barron believes that there is a lack of investment and development within the grassroots level of the sport, as associations opt to advance the sport at an elite level rather than focusing on developing new players.

He added: “Locally, the facilities exist and so does the equipment, I think it just requires the skills that you can only get from people who have played it for years passing them down to new people, that’s what it’s missing.

“You do need coaches and training for people to pass down what they know and that’s how the sport thrives and how you get competition.

“But there has been very little development and involvement in encouraging new people into the sport.

“The governing body, the Scottish Canoe Association, have up until hopefully now, only really been interested in keeping the sport at a high level at the top end.

“The development levels are left in the doldrums, they don’t really see much attention, funding or support. The Division One players don’t really care much about developing newer players, teams and clubs.

“It’s important that we try and change that, but the teams across Scotland are falling off cliffs left, right and centre and once they stop playing that’s them stopped forever.”

Granite City Canoe Club is looking for new canoe polo players, no prior experience required. For anyone who might be interested, you can find out more information about the club on their Facebook page or email granitecitycanoeclub@gmail.com.

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