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. Going to the beach and playing sport was not only free, but a good distraction for Americans. Little by little, the sport reached European nations.
Initially, games featured teams of six people, to bring families together, but doubles emerged as the ideal format. Accordingly, this was the format chosen for the first official beach volleyball tournament, held in California in 1947.
In the 1950s the first beach volleyball tournament circuit was set up, taking in five Californian beaches. In the following decade, the sport became so popular that President John F. Kennedy and The Beatles attended matches. In 1975 the first sponsors came onboard, and the sport began to grow professionally.
In Brazil, beach volleyball's popularity spread quickly, taking over the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and those in cities in the country’s northeast region. In 1986, Brazil’s beaches hosted the first international exhibition tournament. It was endorsed by the International Volleyball Federation (known by French acronym FIVB), which began to pay attention to the discipline, particularly once players started to migrate from the court to the beach.
The first step to make beach volleyball part of the Olympic programme came during the 1992 Barcelona Games. A tournament, featuring more than 100 competing pairs, took place during the Games, in the southern Spanish city of Almeria. The following year, a delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) attended a World Series tournament in Rio de Janeiro. They were suitably impressed by the number of people who attended.
As a result, beach volleyball entered the Olympic programme at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, with events for both men and women.
Matches are played as the best of three sets. The scoring rules 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 splits 24 pairs into six groups of four, with all teams playing each other. Sixteen pairs go through to the elimination round – the two best in each group, the two best third placed pairs, and a further two who emerge successfully from the repechage between the other pairs in third place. The winners in each group compete for gold, and the losers in the semi-finals play for bronze.