Written by Anya ‘Seven’
In the late 80s, at the Moscow’s Luzhniki pool, coaches Nazarov VN and AF Karev attempted to start underwater rugby in Russia but didn’t receive much support. Around mid-90s, Coaches Gastrenko VR, Ivanov VV, Krylov AS, AI Podgorny, Pokrovsky VR, Trofimov OV, who were at the time teaching aquathlon (underwater wrestling), tried to use underwater rugby as part of their training setups. They initially called it, "underwater mini-rugby" or "akvaregbi", and used simplified rules, which were almost completely written by them. This was mainly due to the fact that at that time there was not available up-to-date rules and many of the concepts were not entirely clear. In addition, the equipment they used was not the ideal one since none of the coaches had seen the game. At the beginning they used gymnastics and basketball balls filled with salt water, and the goals were made out of trash cans or simply by using the gaps found between the pool’s stair steps.
Despite the initial difficulties, aquathlonists started to like the game, and 1998, the first Moscow championship for boys and girls was held. In 2001, Stashevsky VG (then CMAS vice president), helped the initial enthusiasts with a proposal to undertake the development of underwater rugby in Russia. He brought to Russia the first official balls for underwater rugby. Coaches were then provided with the official CMAS rules, blueprints for the goals and videos from the previous year’s UWR European Championship. The same year, the first Russian championship was held following all the international rules. Thanks to the strong support provided by the “Betta” sports club’s president, Alexey Belyaev, in February 2002, the Russian team conducted its first international game in Bratislava, Slovakia. For the first time, the players were acquainted to modern underwater rugby. Russian UWR players started to continuously participate in the UWR Czech league. As a result, the Russian national team participated for the first time in the UWR 2003 world cup held in Denmark. From then onwards, the Russian club “Betta” started playing in the UWR Finnish league and the Russian league organized a yearly tournament.
The Russian national team participated in the 2005 European Championship held in 2005. The team as well went to the 2007 CMAS world games. In 2005, the U-21 Russian team was sent to the European Championship held in Germany. In 2006, the U-21 team won silver after losing the final match against Germany, country where the sport was originally developed. In 2007, the Russian U-21 team reached once again the finals and this time beat the German team with a 1-0 score. This achievement made the Russian team be included as part of the UWR history forever. This was the first international title won by the team at an international tournament. The U-21 team won again the European title in 2008 and 2009.
At home, the Russian championship has been won by the Betta team since 2002. Second place is usually taken by Aquanavt from Tula region. The tournament usually has between 5 to 10 teams. In 2010, the league decided to create the women’s tournament with teams of 7 players.
At the moment, UWR is mostly played in Moscow, Tula and St. Petersburg. The national team is mostly pull together out of players from the Betta club. In 2008, the Betta club sent both men’s and women’s teams to compete at the Berlin’s champions cup. In 2010, Betta sent only its women’s team to the tournament.