Water polo was developed in Europe and the United States as two separate sports. In the United States it was termed softball water polo, as the ball was an unfilled bladder, and the sport was very rough, often degenerating into numerous fights. In 1897, Harold Reeder of New York formulated the first rules for that sport, which were intended to decrease the excessive roughness of the game. The European style of water polo predominated and today is the form of the game practiced universally. It is more scientific, faster, and less dangerous than the American game.
Water polo was played at the Olympics of both 1900 and 1904. It was not on the 1906 Olympic Program but has been contested at all Games since. Great Britain won four of the first five Olympic tournaments, but by far the greatest exponents of water polo have been the Hungarians. Between 1928 and 1980, Hungary never failed to medal in the sport at the Olympics, and the country has won 15 Olympic medals in total, including nine golds. Eleven players have won three Olympic water polo titles: three British and eight Hungarian players. Among them is Dezső Gyarmati, who additionally won a silver and a bronze medal.
Women’s World Championships have been held in water polo since 1986, and women competed in water polo at the 2000 Olympic Games for the first time. Water polo, like swimming, diving, and artistic swimming (synchronized swimming), is governed by the Fédération internationale de natation (FINA), which was formed on 19 July 1908 in London and currently has 207 affiliated nations.