Singapore is making its inaugural appearance in the women's water polo competition at the World Aquatics Championships here in Doha. They become the second country from Southeast Asia to participate in this event, following Thailand's debut and sole appearance at the World Aquatics Championships – Budapest 2022.
In contrast to Singapore's novice status, seasoned squads from Australia, Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, and the USA are formidable contenders. These five nations have showcased their prowess in all 17 editions of the world championships since women's water polo was introduced to the event's program in Madrid in 1986.
The anticipation for both the men's and women's national water polo teams' debut was initially set for the upcoming competition at the World Aquatic Championships, slated to be hosted by Singapore in 2025—a first-time event for the city. However, Singapore's women's team is seizing an early opportunity, with a 17-month head start. As the host nation for the 2025 World Championships, both the men's and women's squads will have the honour of making their world championship debut before a home audience next July.
Singapore's journey to Doha is intriguing. China secured the top qualifier spot from Asia, followed by Japan. With Qatar, the host nation, lacking a women's team, their slot in the 16-nation tournament was filled by Kazakhstan. Japan's withdrawal from the tournament due to financial constraints paved the way for Singapore's inclusion.
Despite being relatively new to the sport, Singapore's women boast regional credentials. They clinched the silver medal at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA) held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in May 2023. Thailand secured the gold in a three-nation tournament that also featured bronze medallists Indonesia. Singapore's women had previously claimed gold at the 2011 Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia, followed by consecutive silver medals in 2015, 2017, 2019, and most recently last year.
Facing formidable competition in Group C, including perennial powerhouse Hungary and dominant players from Oceania, Australia, and New Zealand, Singapore's women are up against a tough challenge. Despite their efforts, they faced formidable opponents in the group stage, with Singapore scoring 7 goals across three matches but conceding 101 goals.
Following their group stage matches, Singapore will now compete against South Africa on February 10th in the classification match for places 13th through 16th. A victory over South Africa would enable the Singapore squad to vie for a 13th-place finish. However, if they lose both remaining matches, they will finish in 16th place.
Typically, teams making their debut at the world championships face challenges reaching the semifinals. Thailand, in their 2022 Budapest appearance, secured 15th place with a victory over Colombia, while Israel's sole performance at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships earned them an impressive 10th place.
World Aquatics had the opportunity to interview two of the Singapore players following their match against New Zealand.
"Today's match was honestly one of the hardest ones that we've had. It was mentally quite tough, but I'm really glad that all of us pushed through all the way to the end. We made it happen in the last quarter, and I think we all did really well. I'm very proud of this team.
The world championship experience has been amazing, and we are happy just being here. This is our very first time at these games, and we are very lucky to be able to compete here. And just to come here, play against all these big teams, it's a dream come true. Yeah, we'll take this experience. It means everything to us. We worked really hard to be able to even get this chance to be here. It just shows that our hard work paid off, and we're here to get the best of the experience.
"We are observing all the teams, whichever teams that come in, we play against. Even during warm-up, we're looking, we're always trying to learn everything that they do to us. Our country is really small. We don't have a lot of experience playing against bigger teams, stronger teams. So we just want to take as much as we can, practice, bring it back to all our teammates back home in Singapore, and just grow the sport.
"At the next championship in 2025, honestly, we will do our best in front of the home crowd. We want to expose Singapore to water polo as much as we can. It's a sport that we love, it's a sport that we want to grow, especially in our country, in the region, and in Southeast Asia. We want to get more girls to join and just have fun."
Mounisha Devi - Goalkeeper
Silver Medalist at the 2019 and 2023 Southeast Asian Games
"This team is pretty new. I would say that we have four debutantes, and we only started playing together as a team over the past two or three months.
"We just wanted to give our best, because from the beginning, we knew our group was a very tough draw. All three countries were almost equally matched, and we were certainly the underdogs. Our aim was to come in and learn whatever they were doing that is working, and try to apply it to our own tactics, as well as to not give up until the very last whistle, which I think we accomplished.
"I think New Zealand's defense was very good, and they have very good individual skills. All of us saw this, and we will try to learn from them and implement it in our own team.
"I think our aim is definitely to improve from our performance here, especially because it's in front of a home crowd. Women's water polo is a very small sport in Singapore, so we want to show them how wonderful this sport is and we want to grow the sport in Singapore, as well as to show them that the women's national team is actually capable of many things.
"Water polo in Singapore is quite big in terms of the men's scene, since they are the reigning champions in the Southeast Asian region. However, for women's water polo, not many people know about the sport. They look at us in surprise when we say we are from the national team. So, I'm pretty sure next year's championship is very important to place our mark in the country and in the world.
"I think this tournament already gave us a chance to show them that we have a national team and we are trying our best. So hopefully next year we'll be able to better our performance here."