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Melbourne 1956 Olympics - “Blood in the Water”

6 December 2016

Hungary vs Soviet Union Water Polo game “Blood in the Water”

It is known as the most famous water polo game in Olympic history due to the political backdrop and the resulting violence during the game.

Only 18 days before the Olympics started in Melbourne, the Soviet Union had invaded Hungary. In response Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands boycotted the Olympics – this the first ever boycott of an Olympics. There was a second political conflict, the Suez Crisis, which effecting the Games and contributing to the boycott by nations.

The Hungarian/Soviet Union conflict was most felt in the water polo tournament. Hungary had won the Olympic titles in London and Helsinki and were favourites in Melbourne. The water polo tournament was different to the format in more recent Games. On December 6, 1956, in one of the final round pool games Hungary meet the Soviet Union and the stadium was jammed full with pro-Hungarian spectators. The game was rough, with much abuse taking place underwater. The crowd continued to loudly support the Hungarians as they pile on the goals, reaching four.

Nearing the end of the game a Hungarian player surfaced from an underwater melee, with a large wound below his eye. The crowd erupted booing the Soviets as the water was turning crimson in colour. Hundreds of Hungarians moved to poolside. Police arrived and were required to control spectators as the match officials conducted a conference. They decided to finish the game and declare Hungary the 4-0 winners. One famous picture shown on wire services was of Hungarian player Ervin Zador his head cut, with blood streaming down his face as he stepped out of the pool. The incident echoed around the world and the game was referred to as the “Blood in the Water” game.

Hungary went on to win gold, undefeated in seven games, while the Soviet Union took bronze.

David Tarbotton

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