In 1961 a member of the German Underwater Club (DUC) in Köln (Germany), Ludwig von Bersuda, came up with the idea of an underwater ball game. Air-filled balls are not suitable for underwater games, as they are buoyant and always return to the surface. The first underwater ball was invented when Bersuda filled the ball with saltwater. Since the density of the ball was now greater than that of normal water, it no longer floated to the surface, but slowly sank to the bottom.
Ludwig von Bersuda spanned the middle of the pool with a net, as in volleyball, that stopped 1 m above the pool bottom. Two teams played against each other: the offensive team had to carry the ball to the opposing field and put it into a bucket. The idea for the game was ready, and the DUC Cologne used it to warm up before normal training. Other teams saw this and started to use saltwater-filled balls themselves.
The “Cologne Discipline” was demonstrated as a competition sport at the national games in 1963, probably the first official game with an underwater ball. At the time, though, there was not much interest shown. However, Dr. Franz Josef Grimmeisen, a member of the German Underwater Club in Duisburg, a city near Köln, decided to make a competitive sport from this ball game. The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) of Mülheim (since 1967 TSC Mülheim/Ruhr) had founded a divers’ club, and through contact with members of DUC Duisburg learned of the game. With their help, Grimmeisen arranged the first underwater rugby game on October 4, 1964. It took place between DLRG Mülheim and DUC Duisburg. DUC Duisburg won the game 5-2.
Grimmeisen kept promoting the ideas of an underwater rugby tournament to give the sport a character of serious competition. Together with the scuba-diving section of the DUC Mülheim/Ruhr, to which six players of DUC Duisburg came, he organized the first underwater rugby tournament rules, and the “Battle for the Golden Ball” in Hallenbad Sued, in Mülheim/Ruhr. The premiere was on November 1965. Six clubs sent teams to Mülheim: DUC Bochum; DUC Düsseldorf, DUC Duisburg, DUC Essen and TSC Delphin Lüdenscheid. DLRG Mülheim, the home team, came away winners, against DUC Duisburg (for whom Dr. Grimmeisen played). The tournament has been held every year since then, which makes it the oldest tournament in the history of the sport.
To bring this game to the international arena, Grimmeisen turned to the two then most important members of the World Underwater Federation (CMAS), France and the USSR. He offered demonstration games and press coverage. Sadly, interest was not forthcoming.
The Scandinavian countries showed more interest, and adopted the ideas in relatively short time. A demonstration in Denmark in 1973 and in Finland in 1975 were effective. Games in Belgium in 1973 and Vienna in 1979 were ineffective in generating interest. The only tournament known to have taken place there is the Underwater Rugby Tournament in Prague, which has taken place every year since 1975 (with the exception of 1979). In later years, Polish teams participated as well, and teams from East Germany, who used the game for conditioning, sent observers.
Since 1972, when the game was recognized as a sport by the Union of German Sport Divers (VDST), official German Championships have taken place. The first German Championship was held in Mülheim, of course, and the first German Champions were TSC Mülheim.
In 1978, underwater rugby was officially recognized by the World Underwater Federation CMAS, and from 28 to 30 April 1978, the first European Championships took place in Malmö, Sweden, and from 15 to 18 May 1980, the first World Championships in Mülheim.