We were sitting with our legs in a swimming pool at the famous Versace Gold Coast hotel — Boris Margeta, Georgios Stavridis and myself.

The illustrious water polo referees were in Australia to officiate the Olympic qualification series between Australia and New Zealand women and I played the tourist guide.

Slovenian Boris explained something about the water polo rules and I challenged Greek George to refute his claim. George replied: “I can’t. He is the best referee in the world!”

That was 2004 and Boris was still just a one-time Olympian, but his reputation had grown markedly in such a short time.

At the age of 28, Boris enjoyed his first visit to the Olympics in Sydney, Australia and in 2016 he attended his most recent. Family illness forced his withdrawal from the Tokyo 2020 edition where he would have equalled the feat of the late Cuban, Eugenio Martinez, of a remarkable six Olympic Games as a water polo referee. Now he will have to wait until Paris 2024 to achieve the mark.

It was probably the most difficult decision in my life. You know, for every sportsman, the Olympics are the highest goal. Referees are sportsmen too; they had to learn, practise and develop their skills. So, for five years we have been working hard. 

“At all my clinics, I'm teaching that if you want to be a good referee, water polo must be your second priority in life. First is family, second is water polo — not job, not friends, not hobbies, but water polo.  Unfortunately, we had pretty serious health problems in my family, so I decided to stay with my family and help and support them, as my wife and daughters have supported me over 20 years travelling and whistling all over the world.

"I am convinced that I made the right decision,” Boris said.

While Tokyo was robbed of his presence, Boris, who is a former national team player and the current president of the World Water Polo Referees’ Association (WWR), will not be far away and will probably be whistling at the Fukuoka FINA World Championships next May.

His CV is spectacular — five Olympic Games, nine FINA World Championships, two FINA World Cups, five FINA World League Super Finals, 15 European Champions League finals, eight European Championships, sedveral Junior World Championships and a host of other world events.

It’s hard to put a number on how many matches he has officiated at international level, but Boris thinks it is about 600.

Then there are the finals. He did the women’s final at Athens 2004, commanded five World Championship men’s finals and one women’s, two men’s World Cups, two men’s Super Finals and a junior women’s final — an unprecedented 12 finals at Olympic and FINA level alone. Add in six European Championship finals, eight Champions League finals and the statistics are astonishing.

An IT engineer at insurance company Triglav in Ljubljana, Boris lives in Slovenia’s third largest city, Kranj. Boris said the company understood his sporting dreams and was most supportive.

Keeping involved with water polo during the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough, he said.

“It was a great shock. I'm used to going to the swimming pool every day, as my daughter (one of two) is a swimmer. So, almost every day I whistle a little, practising with younger players, which keeps me young and in good shape,” he chuckles. “Suddenly all the country was closed and all activities stopped. I tried to remain active throughout WWR. “Together, with my team, we had full on tests, video quizzes, online activities, which helped a little to stay in touch with water polo. It was very, very difficult time without the sport I love.”

We can’t let Boris go without a comment or two on the current use of the rules.

“We play water polo for spectators. Spectators demand fast, clean, intelligent game and understandable rules. Nobody wants static and physical games.  So, these were and still are key goals which we want to achieve with the new rules.

It was a big change and everybody needs time to adopt, understand and follow the new rules, including referees. Until now, a great job was done by explanations, instructions and progress of those rules. I strongly believe that it was a step forward to speed up the game, to get more actions, more goals and especially that movement of the players is under maximum protection.

“In all team sports, protecting the movement of an attacker is a basic fundamental rule. I would like to mention and congratulate TWPC for the usage of modern techniques like VAR and referees’ review of the game. All those elements give a full picture of the success of the new rules. Of course, the process is still not over. There are some rules which need some more changes or  explanation. But we are on the right path and our game has become faster and less physical,” he said.

For Boris, his life in water polo is far from over, much to our relief.