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Fun: Torn and Quartered

Owen Evans travelled to Holland to speak to FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) president Ary Graca about how they are planning to solve a stadia legacy dilemma through an innovative multi-venue strategy.

Beach volleyball is the walk-on cameo star of the Olympic Games, but its 15 minutes of fame come at a price.

Every four years, the event is one of the most sought-after tickets at the Olympic Games, and next year will be no different as the sport returns to its birthplace of Rio’s Copacabana beach.

As part of a wider trend in beach sports, the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) is moving its flagship events away from the shore and into the heart of cities, as seen with the temporary stadia set up in the British prime minister’s back yard, Horse Guards Parade, during the London 2012 Games.

So far, so glamorous, but volleyball’s pressing problem for the future is a direct consequence of a solution from its past.

Olympic hosts do not want a white elephant in the shape of a permanent beach volleyball stadium that is only used once a generation sitting in the middle of the city, so FIVB pioneered a strategy of temporary stadia at Olympics since the sport’s arrival in Atlanta almost 20 years ago.

However, without any physical legacy, the sport never has a chance to grow in the Olympic markets after the event has finished, and the stadia are dismantled 15 days later.

“What happened in England was absurd, the tickets in the black market were the most expensive,” FIVB president Ary Graca told SportBusiness International. “But what about afterwards? Absolutely nothing.”

The latest solution to the lack of physical legacy is to split the venue-hosting into four. At last month’s World Championships in Holland, the venues were split between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Apeldoorn and The Hague, where the finals were held. Each temporary venue had identical branding to give fans at each stage the feeling they were at the same event.

A floating 5,500-seater stadium was built on the Hofvijver pond in The Hague, while Rotterdam’s 2,000-seater had the SS Rotterdam cruise ship as its backdrop. Amsterdam’s 2,000-seat temporary venue was constructed in Dam Square, while the market square was the location for Apeldoorn’s 2,000-seater venue.

“I have a dual plan when it comes to our rich and poor members,” said Graca. “We have to ask our richer members to do something really different [when it comes to hosting]. The idea of one host using four different stadia was given to me four years ago, but my people were too conservative at the time to accept it. Now we have tried it in Holland and it is a big success.”

FIVB’s Angelo Squeo has been events director since the sport’s induction to the Olympic programme in 1996. He negotiated with the four Dutch host cities of last month’s FIVB World Championships to work out logistics over space, but also how to create a permanent legacy in the country once the temporary homes have been demolished.

I know if I give all [development] money to certain state federations up front, it will go straight to the back pocket.

“The point is that when you build the venue, you have to think about its future,” he told SportBusiness International. “In Holland they have built up a network of 300 volleyball clubs in schools around the country, so by us spreading our event over four temporary stadia instead of one, we are able to reach more of the young players.”

Hitting the Spot

Away from the attempt to solve the participation problem once the beach volleyball circus has left town, another of Squeo’s key roles when it comes to picking ideal stadia in potential host cities revolves around three key factors: safety, space and visual backdrop.

The word ‘iconic’ has been bandied around so much in sport’s vernacular that it has almost lost its meaning, but Squeo believes it is a perfect way of describing the first criteria he looks for when assessing the perfect place for temporary venues in a city centre.

“Rio 2016 is easy, as Copacabana beach is where the sport started,” Squeo said. “But with somewhere like London, you have to think differently depending on if it is an Olympic Games or a World Tour event where the promoter has to make some money.”

Delegates from the Mayor of London’s office were in Holland during the FIVB World Cup to speak to the FIVB about bringing the sport back to the British capital in 2019.

However, despite the popularity of the beach volleyball event in 2012, Squeo said that if the sport did go back to London in the near future, there would be little chance of it taking place in the Horse Guards Parade location, and even less hope of it being moved to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

“When I went to Horse Guards Parade, the local organising committee told me they had three places to show me,” Squeo said.

“The first one was Horse Guards Parade – we didn’t bother going to the other two. However, it’s very expensive to be in Horse Guards Parade. It costs around £200,000 per day in total, so it is not sustainable. London has so many places.

“For an Olympics, it was a perfect venue, but for a World Tour event with a promoter who has to make money – he won’t come back. I would host the event in Hyde Park or Regent’s Park, but I would definitely not go to the Olympic Park, because it is a bit isolated and not iconic in my point of view.

“Frankly speaking, if we were proposed to go into the Olympic Park in 2019, I would be sceptical about its success."

Managing mismanagement

One of the chief problems faced by FIVB when giving millions of pounds to members around the world to build new beach volleyball stadia, is to ensure it is actually spent on new facilities.

“I was very concerned about this,” FIVB president Ary Graca told SportBusiness International. “I know if I give all [development] money to certain state federations up front, it will go straight to the back pocket.

“So to stop this from happening, I tell our members: ‘I will not give money to you [for no reason], you have to show me the project first. Then, I will approve the project. After that it goes to the government who have to approve it and provide one third of the total cost, the NOC (national Olympic committee) will give one third of the money through the solidarity fund, and then I will provide the final third of the money.

“Even then I will not give all the money straight away. First, I’ll hand over 25 per cent of our contribution, then the member federation needs to send me a report showing the construction is under way. Once I am happy with that, I’ll give another 25 per cent, and so on.”

Graca added the FIVB is currently sending $30m a year to help generate facilities and development among its 220 federations.

Photos courtesy of the FIVB

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