Why Goggles Aren’t Allowed in Water Polo (Explained)


Water polo is a full-contact, physically demanding sport. Not much equipment is required in the sport—a pool, water polo suits, caps, a ball, and goals are about it as far as equipment goes. However, there are some strict rules about what cannot be done, used, and worn while playing water polo.

Water polo players are not allowed to wear goggles during games because the stiff, plastic lenses pose a serious injury risk to the person wearing them, along with any nearby opponents. Plus, players may deliberately pull at these goggles to disorient their opponent and acquire an advantage.

In this article, we will look at the different reasons why goggles are not allowed in water polo, how players with poor vision can play effectively, and whether or not goggles will be allowed in water polo at any point in the future. Read on to learn more about the use, or rather disuse, of goggles in water polo.

Why Goggles Have Been Banned From Water Polo

Water polo has a fairly extensive and somewhat violent history. Players come into contact with each other often and—because of this—water polo uniforms are as minimal as possible. This is to prevent injury, provide less area for opponents to grab onto, and produce the least amount of water resistance and restriction possible.

Many water polo players do wear goggles for training and practice, but goggles are not allowed to be worn by players during games. During games, goggles not only cause safety issues, but they can be problematic to a player’s vision. Goggles could fill up with water, the lenses could become foggy, and they can potentially hinder a player’s peripheral vision.

Aside from the reasons we’ve just discussed, goggles have been banned from the sport of water polo in order to:

  • prevent any kind of serious injury
  • avoid providing opponents with additional area to grab or pull

Since these two fundamental reasons are so key to understanding why goggles were banned from water polo in the first place, we will further explore these reasons in the next sections.

Risk for Eye Injury Is Simply Too High

Swimming goggles often have clear lenses made with hard plastic. If a player wearing goggles experiences heavy contact in the head region, there’s a solid chance that the goggles could be forcibly pressed into the player’s eye sockets. Needless to say, this would likely result in serious injury.

This is largely due to the structural makeup of the hard plastic lenses. Any kind of physical contact to the goggles could result in injury. Physical contact can come from anywhere in water polo since it’s a contact sport.

And trust me, if you haven’t watched a water polo game before, there’s a lot of contact that goes on that you can’t see! Contact happens underwater, above water, near the ball, and away from the ball. With physical contact being so commonplace, you can expect physical blows to come from the:

  • Ball
  • Elbows
  • Feet
  • Hands

This is the main underlying reason why goggles are prohibited in water polo—the risk for eye injury is simply too high.

It’s just not worth it for water polo players to wear goggles. The risk to reward is just not there. Players that have worn goggles at the lower levels of water polo can attest to this. In practically all cases, the playing difficulties and injuries received as a result of wearing goggles makes them ditch the goggles within a short time span.

While sport goggles are made with softer material, they’re still not allowed during water polo games. In a few cases, players with medical documentation and goggles deemed soft enough by a referee can wear goggles during a water polo game, but this is a rare exception to the rule.

Opponents May Pull Off Goggles to Gain Leverage

In water polo, opponents will often grab at whatever a player is wearing to try and get the upper hand. This is yet another reason why goggles are not allowed in water polo—they give opponents more area to latch onto, which could result in a disadvantage to the person wearing them.

When a player is provided with more places to grab or pull, it affords them an extra edge over their opponent. As a water polo player, it’s in your best interest to keep the other team’s advantages to a minimum.

If goggles were worn in water polo and pulled off by an opponent, it would also pose a risk of injury. Water polo may be a contact sport, but player safety takes precedence over everything.

Put simply, the benefits that might be provided by goggles are outweighed by the safety hazards they can present. They’re very impractical to wear given the nature of water polo games.

How Do Water Polo Players With Poor Vision Play Effectively?

Clear vision is necessary for water polo, as players need to be able to see as much of the pool as possible to do things like:

  • catch or throw the ball
  • keep track of their teammates and opponents
  • know where to go within the pool

For players with poor vision who wear glasses or contacts, not being able to wear goggles in water polo can be a challenge.

Fortunately, there are options for water polo players who do not have perfect vision. Water polo players may have the option of specially manufactured goggles, depending on what’s authorized by their league.

Specially Manufactured Goggles

Under some circumstances, specially manufactured sports goggles may be allowed in water polo. They’re similar to the ones worn by some basketball players.

These sports goggles must be tailor-made with flexible material and contain no sharp edges to protect players from injury (source). For those who do wear such goggles in water polo, a note from a doctor is required.

The rules regarding eyewear are slightly more flexible for the lower competitive tiers of water polo. Up to the high school level, the use of specially manufactured goggles is allowed. Though, medical documentation is still required, regardless of how old the player might be.

Though, what is and what isn’t allowed to be worn during a water polo game is ultimately up to the discretion of the referee. There’s no guarantee that a referee will permit the use of goggles for a game, even with a medical note.

Are Contact Lenses a Viable Option?

If you’re a water polo player with poor vision you may be under the impression that contact lenses may help you correct your vision during games. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, wearing contact lenses in a pool may actually do more harm than good.

In general, contact lenses are not designed to be exposed to water. Contact lenses are so sensitive to water that it’s not even advised that you shower while wearing them!

Contact lenses pose a number of safety risks if they are worn within a swimming pool environment. The negative health effects of wearing contacts in a pool include (source):

  • excess absorption of water
  • collection of bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens against the eye

This holds true regardless of what type of contact lens a water polo player decides to use. It doesn’t matter if it’s a disposable daily contact lens or an expensive monthly contact lens. Both of these contact lenses will irritate your eyes in the water and impair your vision even further.

In short, avoid contact lenses for anything pertaining to water polo. If you genuinely feel that you need some sort of eyewear to help correct your vision, see if you can acquire a pair of specially manufactured goggles. Otherwise, you will just have to learn how to do without. This may not be the answer you want to hear, but it’s far better than putting your eyes at unnecessary risk for injury.

Is There a Possibility of Goggles Being Allowed in the Future?

The future outlook on whether or not swim goggles will be legalized in water polo is not very clear. Considering the safety risks associated with goggles and the potential advantages opponents could gain from them, it’s unlikely that swim goggles will be allowed in water polo games any time soon.

With sports goggles, however, there’s a slight possibility that they will become more acceptable for use by water polo players. Certain specially manufactured goggles are already allowed in water polo, so long as a proper medical note is provided. Though, the referee makes the final decision on what eyewear is allowed during the game.

As of right now, the official rules for goggles in water polo games remain the same as they have always been. Articles such as face masks and goggles must:

  • be able to flex in response to physical pressure
  • be without sharp, hard edges
  • not pose any further injury risk to its user or other nearby players

The evolution of regular, hard plastic swim goggles to sports goggles is promising. It indicates that an innovative set of goggles could perhaps be created that suits the contact-oriented play of water polo. As it stands, however, wearing goggles as a water polo player is more of a nuisance than anything else.

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Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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