This year’s mens and women’s water polo tournament at the Rio Olympics will pit 20 country’s teams against each other in a competition for world supremacy in the sport. Although water polo has been played in the Olympics for more than 100 years, the Games haven’t always been friendly between countries.
The 2016 Rio Olympics will mark the 60th anniversary of water polo’s “blood in the water” match, a game that pitted Hungary and the USSR against one another just over a month after Soviet troops invaded Hungary.
The game was played on December 6, 1956 in Melbourne, Australia. (The 1956 Olympics were played in November and December, the beginning of the Australian summer.) Just 33 days earlier, 200,000 troops from the USSR invaded Hungary as a way to squash a revolt against the Soviet communist regime.
The atmosphere was contentious from the get-go, and before the game could even be completed, a brawl between the two squads broke out. Midway through the fourth quarter, Hungary’s Ervin Zador focused his attention on the referee on the other side of the pool. While he wasn’t looking he was struck on the face by a Russian player, causing a gash to form around his eye and cheek and blood to pour into the pool.
Further violence erupted because of the blow to Zador’s face, not just between the players on the teams but with the fans in the crowd as well, who attempted to jump barriers to get closer to the pool and the action. The violence forced the referees to call the game and give Hungary a 4-0 victory.
As Getty Images reported on a photo taken at the game “Hungarian Ervin Zador with blood pouring from a cut eye is led to a casualty room for attention for the injury which he received from a Russian player in the closing stages of the Hungary versus Russia water polo match today. The game ended in chaos with hundreds of new Australians in the crowd screaming for the blood of the Russians. Throughout the match, which Hungary won 4-0, fists, elbows, knees and feet were used when the players came in contact.”
Due to Zador’s injury, he had to sit out the rest of the Olympics, but Hungary still went on to win the gold medal in a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia. It was their fourth gold medal in five Olympics.