A sport derived from indoor volleyball, Beach Volleyball was created in the 1920s in the city of Santa Monica, California. The sport became popular as a result of the economic depression, given that going to the beach was a good (and free) distraction for Americans. Little by little, the sport reached European nations such as France and Bulgaria.
Initially, games featured teams of six people each, to bring families together, but doubles emerged as the ideal format for the sport. Accordingly, this was the format chosen for the first official Beach Volleyball tournament, held in California in 1947.
The 1950s saw the first Beach Volleyball circuit, at five Californian beaches, and in the following decade the sport became so popular that President John F. Kennedy and British band The Beatles attended events. As of 1975, sponsors came on the scene, and the sport began to grow professionally.
In Brazil, Beach Volleyball also became very popular, taking over the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and cities in the country’s Northeast region. In 1986, Brazil’s beaches hosted the first international exhibition tournament endorsed by the International Volleyball Federation (known by French acronym FIVB), which began to pay attention to the discipline. Players from the court migrated to the beach.
The first step to make Beach Volleyball part of the Olympic programme was a parallel competition held at the same time as the Barcelona 1992 Games, in the city of Almeria, Spain, which featured more than 100 doubles. A delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also attended a heat of the World Series of 1993, held in Rio de Janeiro, and the officials were surprised by the number of people present at the event.
As a result, Beach Volleyball entered the Olympic programme at the 1996 Games in Atlanta in the United States, with events for both men and women.
Matches are played as the best of three sets. The scoring rules and distances are the same as for volleyball: the aim is to score points by making the ball fall onto the ground on the opponents’ side of the court. On the beach, however, the first two sets are for 21 points. If necessary, there is a third set that runs to 15 points. The net is 2.43 metres high for men and 2.24 metres high for women.
For both men and women, competitions start with a first phase, which distributes 24 doubles into six groups of four, with all teams playing each other. Sixteen doubles go through to the elimination round – the two best in each group, the two best in third place, and a further two who emerge successfully from repechage between the other doubles in third place. The winners in each group compete for gold, and the losers in the semi-finals play for bronze.