services & publications: Olympic sport

"Proud of the FIVB's Olympic success story"

by Andrew A. Napier [ aanapier.com ]
article published in FIVB VolleyWorld (May 2007)

The FIVB celebrates its 60th birthday this year as one of the strongest and most vigorous members of the Olympic Movement.  After the outstanding success of last year’s Volleyball World Championships finals in Tokyo , qualification for next year’s Beijing Olympics moves towards the top of the agenda for elite players in both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball.

By 15 January 2008 nine each of the twelve Men’s and Women’s Volleyball teams will have qualified for next year’s Olympic Tournaments in Beijing, starting with the top three Men’s and Women’s teams in the FIVB Volleyball World Cups in November.  From 1 May this year players on the SWATCH-FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour will start accumulating the ranking points which will be used to determine the 24 Men’s and Women’s teams which qualify for the Beijing Olympic Beach Volleyball Tournament.  

Our sports are now structured in such a way that we are able to guarantee not only that the best players will participate in the Olympic Tournaments but also that the objectives and values of the Olympic Movement are woven into the fabric of all we do.  Furthermore within the Olympic Movement - and especially with Olympic Organising Committees - the FIVB is renowned for the professionalism and efficiency with which it organises the Olympic sports of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball.

Volleyball has been on the Olympic Programme since 1964, but the decisive move came 20 years later, in 1984, when the FIVB’s newly-elected President Dr Ruben Acosta moved its HQ from Paris to Lausanne to be close to the IOC.  Since then the FIVB has worked closely with the IOC and National Olympic Committees round the world to boost the popularity of the sports and to increase the value of the FIVB to the Olympic Games.

Volleyball has a long and distinguished history as an amateur sport played in schools and universities and the FIVB has been able to continue this tradition while also increasing the appeal of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball as top-level professional sports that are played on all continents.  Under Dr Acosta’s leadership the FIVB has been able to retain the Olympic Games as the pinnacle of the sports, along with the World Championships, while also creating popular new global tournaments such as the World League for men, the World Grand Prix for women and the SWATCH-FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.

As the then IOC President H.E. Juan Antonio Samaranch pointed out in 1997, at the time of the FIVB’s 50th Anniversary: “The FIVB has become one of the giants of the Olympic Movement.”  Like the IOC, the FIVB now has a secure financial base, which is the envy of many in the Olympic Movement.  In 2002 his successor as IOC President, Dr Jacques Rogge, told the IOC Session in Mexico: “The serious economic crisis that we are currently experiencing is also affecting sport and its funding. The IOC has been spared this, thanks to the visionary policy of President Juan Antonio Samaranch and his Executive Board colleagues, which enabled long-term contracts to be signed.”  The FIVB also successfully adopted this policy, and Dr Acosta was able to confirm to the FIVB World Congress in Tokyo that in the 2007-2010 period total revenue of CHF 102 million is due to the FIVB from TV and marketing contracts which he has negotiated since 2000.  The FIVB can also expect a significant contribution from the IOC from its TV revenues for Beijing.

However it was not always like this.  Back in the 1980s the FIVB Board of Administration was shocked by the low value put on the FIVB’s events by marketing agencies, including the one that was able to help generate so much wealth for the IOC.  The then newly-elected FIVB President Dr Acosta was convinced of the great potential of both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball, which the FIVB started to organise internationally in 1987, and without a marketing department or marketing agencies, he took personal responsibility for all commercial aspects of the sport.  Over 20 years he has made the FIVB one of the most important commercial success stories in world sport. 

President Acosta has built lucrative commercial partnerships between the FIVB and major broadcasting companies, created the conditions for lucrative sponsorships of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball tournaments and ploughed this new-found wealth back into the sport - in the form of subsidising new events, increased prize money and sport development aid.  This is a fine example of the new Olympic principle that “sport money should be used for sport.”  Like the IOC, the FIVB now benefits from guaranteed TV and marketing revenues for years to come, thus also meeting the key Olympic objective that the organisation, administration and management of sport must be controlled by independent sports organisations.

As President Samaranch pointed out on the occasion of the FIVB’s 50th anniversary ten years ago:  “I believe that there is a truly special feeling between the Olympic Family and Volleyball, based on a common conviction: the need to adapt sport to the changes taking place in society, while at the same time keeping the sports movement totally independent - two strong values that Volleyball has been able to transfer without delay or hypocrisy to the complex system that regulates modern sport.”

This is still true today.  Like the Olympic Games themselves, the sports of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball have adapted and modernised.  The IOC’s decision to bring Beach Volleyball onto the Olympic Programme for Atlanta 1996 was seen by many as a sign that the Olympic Games were changing to adopt modern popular sports that met all the necessary Olympic criteria.  

At the same time the FIVB was also responsive to feedback on our sports from players, officials, spectators, the media and the IOC, and after careful study took brave decisions to alter the rules of the game in ways that have made the sports more accessible and exciting.   By Sydney 2000 both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball had abandoned side-outs in favour of Rally Point Scoring and used tie-breakers in the final set. 

These changes have made both sports even more popular with spectators and television: at Sydney the Beach Volleyball tournament was one of the top attractions, and four years later at Athens both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball came near the top of the rankings for ticket sales and TV viewers.  The appeal of Beach Volleyball as an Olympic sport can now also be seen in the prominent locations proposed by cities bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games.  In London the Beach Volleyball tournament will be in the heart of the city, near Buckingham Palace, and a computer-generated image showing this is one of the iconic symbols of London 2012. 

This is no coincidence: one of the FIVB’s key strategies has been to make Beach Volleyball a mainstream summer sport which is played in city centres and in mountain resorts, as well as on the beach.  The 2007 World Championships will be held in July in the Swiss resort of Gstaad, and these Championships along with the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour offer $8,750,000 prize money as well as counting towards Olympic Qualification.  The IOC and the Olympic Organising Committees benefit from having such popular sports on the Olympic Programme.   

However the Olympic Tournaments are elite events and only about 20 countries have a realistic chance of qualifying Men’s and Women’s Volleyball and Beach Volleyball teams for Beijing.  As well as the sport’s top coaches, referees and officials, there will only be 288 Volleyball players and 96 Beach Volleyball players.  However the “universality” principle is important within the Olympic Movement and also complements another key Olympic belief, namely that sport and physical activity in general merit a key place in education.  They help individuals in their physical development and constitute a school for understanding, solidarity and ethics, with considerable benefit for society. 

The FIVB is living proof of the importance of this principle.  Not only does the FIVB have its own extensive Development Programmes to raise standards, but the FIVB’s Development Centres also have an excellent track record of working closely with Olympic Solidarity to deliver effective training and results.  It was also significant that President Acosta chose to direct the FIVB’s $3 million tsunami relief fund to building 18 fully-equipped schools in countries devastated by the December 2004 tsunami.  Each of these schools will have its own volleyball court and many will choose to make it available for the local community outside school hours.

There are many other ways in which the FIVB could be considered an exemplary Olympic Federation.  The sports themselves are recognised for their values such as athleticism, rapidity, alertness, excitement, drama, entertainment, enjoyment, tactical skill, fair-play and universality.  In terms of universality the FIVB has become the largest in terms of the number of affiliated National Federations.  Between them the 220 National Federations hold the registrations of over 35 million players, but over 20 times more people play the sport regularly.  Over 174 national teams competed in the most recent Volleyball World Championships the finals of which were held in Tokyo last year, and President Acosta has set a target for 250 for the next World Championships, which would be a resounding triumph for the Olympic Movement’s objective of universality.

Furthermore at all levels of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball the FIVB strives for equality of opportunity for Men and Women.  The sports have been developed in such a way that the only technical difference between the Men’s and Women’s game is the height of the net.  In this the year when IOC President Jacques Rogge has asked the IOC to consider setting up of new “Youth Olympics” it is pleasing to note that in recent years the FIVB has been staging increasingly competitive tournaments for younger age groups with FIVB youth and junior World Championships for both genders in both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball.  This year sees FIVB Junior World Championships in Thailand (Volleyball) and Italy (Beach Volleyball) and Youth World Championships in Mexico (Volleyball) and Poland (Beach Volleyball.)

Although the FIVB has a reputation for planning and organising its dynamic sports to the highest standards, there will always be challenges to resolve regarding the Olympic Tournaments, especially as Olympic qualification is so tightly integrated into the Federation’s elite competitions.  However with good-will and flexibility all these challenges can be resolved.  For example, the very first Beach Volleyball Olympic tournament was to be in Atlanta in 1996, in a country with the world’s most developed professional league: all parties wanted the best players to be able to qualify to play at Atlanta but national interests wanted greater weight to be given to the US tour than the international events organised by the International Federation.  Together with President Samaranch, the FIVB was able to find a satisfactory solution, and the outstanding Atlanta tournament helped launch Beach Volleyball on its extraordinary growth, with American and Brazilian players still regularly challenging for podium places, but with players from Europe and Asia now as likely to win.

Fair-play and ethics are key Olympic values that are crucial for the FIVB, which takes steps to ensure the highest standards in its sports.  The FIVB is proud of its record in the fight against doping, and in some ways the FIVB anti-doping code is stricter than the standards set by WADA.  The drug-free record of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball adds to the appeal of the sports and is all the more welcome in view of the ever-increasing professionalisation of the sports.  At President Acosta’s behest the FIVB has also adopted a very strict Code of Conduct, which draws extensively on the IOC’s own Code and is applied fearlessly at all levels of the Volleyball and Beach Volleyball.  The FIVB’s World Congress made an important decision in Tokyo to create a new Disciplinary Committee to apply this Code. 

Successive Olympic Games Organising Committees have appreciated that the sports of Volleyball and Beach Volleyball are organised in such a way that the very best players in each discipline compete to take part in the Games, which in turn attracts the interest of the most knowledgeable supporters and media, and adds to the appeal and fun of the Games.  As the International Herald Tribune reported from Athens in August 2004: “Fans were not just waving flags from Brazil, Spain and Greece but from Britain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the United States.  Who could have guessed it? You thought you were going to a beach volleyball party, and the Olympic spirit broke out!”  The FIVB is confident that the high spectator numbers and TV ratings for both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball in Athens are likely to be matched or exceeded in Beijing and London. 

Whereas some other major sports seem to want to ‘protect’ their own major championships by staging Olympic Tournaments without many of their best players, the FIVB has been able simultaneously to increase the global popularity of its own sports, increase the prizes for the top professionals and arrange the sports in such a way that these top professionals all want to win the Olympic Gold, while at the same time the FIVB -  through Development Centres and programmes such as the FIVB World Vision 2012 - seeks to raise the standards in the weaker National Federations and give greater opportunities for young people to play Volleyball and Beach Volleyball on all Continents. 

For those who know President Acosta this is no surprise: his passion and detailed knowledge of Volleyball is matched by a long association with the Olympic Games dating back over 40 years to 1966 when he was an Executive member of the Mexican Olympic Committee.  Then he was General Vice Director of Sports in the Organising Committee of the 1968 Mexico Olympics in charge of sports technical organisation for the Games.  He was awarded the Olympic Order at the 93rd IOC Session in Calgary and was an IOC Member from 2000 to 2004.  He has attended every Olympic Games since 1968 in addition to being the FIVB Control Committee member or President at Munich 1972, Montreal 1976, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and will again at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. 

As Jacques Rogge said in one of his first interviews as IOC President (Salt Lake City, February 2002): "We respect totally the federations and their responsibility for staging the sports and assuring the results... We are partners. They run the sports, but these are our games."  The FIVB accepts this and works closely with the IOC, National Olympic Committees and Organising Committees to produce excellent Olympic Tournaments, and would add: “… and Volleyball and Beach Volleyball are our sports, of which we are immensely proud, and we would like you to be proud to have them in the Olympic Games.”  

And in 2009, when each of the 26 sports now scheduled for London 2102 will again be expected to fight for their continued place on the Olympic Programme, it will again be the confident hope of the FIVB and its President that IOC Members will again vote for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball to continue our Olympic success story and - in between Games - to continue to spread the Olympic values and further the goals of the Olympic Movement.

Andrew A. Napier

April 2007