Sport Olympics The problem with beach volleyball at the Games

The problem with beach volleyball at the Games

beach volleyball olympics
Beach volleyball in Rio: not as good as it looks. Photo: Getty
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There is a fundamental problem with beach volleyball at the Olympics.

It’s not about the bikinis, or whether the sport is just about sex appeal and glamour.

No, the main issue with beach volleyball is that it’s boring to watch – possibly one of the most unengaging sports at these Games.

I spent a day watching at the purpose-built stadium at Copacabana Beach earlier in the Games – and I almost fell asleep.

Maybe the hot weather and the long hours over the last week were contributing factors, but the main thing was the complete lack of intrigue in the game.

That’s what happens when there are only two players on each team; there are not many strategic or tactical options at all.

In a match between two European nations, one combination had a marked height difference, so the opposition spent most of the game serving directly to the shorter player.

beach volleyball olympics
The tactics rarely differ. Photo: Getty

He would retrieve, his partner would set, and then the more diminutive player would go up for a spike, which was often blocked.

It was a pattern that was repeated, ad nauseum, and didn’t really make for riveting viewing.

There is no denying the skills of the players, and their athleticism at times is incredible, and they dive full length to retrieve what look to be impossible situations.

But the format isn’t ideal.

With only one option at any time, there is no opportunity for deception, fakes or subtlety. You either hit the ball to your teammate, or you hit it over the net.

Imagine watching 2-a-side football, or rugby with two players on each team? Two-a-side basketball? Forget about it; it just wouldn’t work as a spectacle.

In contrast, indoor volleyball (six players on each team) can be a great watch.

beach volleyball olympics
About as exciting as it gets. Photo: Getty

There are a huge variety of tactics, and all kinds of variations on attack and defence.

For beach volleyball, there is a simple fix.

Add one player to each team.

Then, at least sometimes, there would be the capacity to keep the opposition guessing, to fake one way and go the other.

Otherwise, it feels like the novelty value of the sport is wearing off.

Beach volleyball was one of the big hits at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but hasn’t really created the same buzz since then.

Crowds haven’t been great in Rio, and the American professional men’s tour has twice filed for bankruptcy over the past 15 years.

beach volleyball olympics
Still, at least the view is good. Photo: Getty

But it’s an important sport at this Olympics, especially with Brazil’s pedigree (they have won gold or silver in every men’s event since 1996, and six medals overall on the women’s side).

“Almost everyone is Brazil plays volley at some time,” said Bruna Oliveira, a Rio local.

“We are very proud of this sport … it’s part of our culture.”

Aside from the beach, there are courts scattered across the city and it’s common to see locals playing at all hours of the day and until late at night.

Foot volley – where players use all parts of the body except the hands to propel the ball – is also hugely popular in this football-crazy nation.

If the spectacle of beach volleyball was an Olympic disappointment, other sports have been a bonus.

beach volleyball olympics
Water polo is far more exciting. Photo: Getty

Water polo never comes across as particularly riveting on television but it was a great watch live.

The physicality of the game, the aerobic capacity of the players and spectacular reflexes of the goalkeepers caught the eye.

It was a similar story with handball, a sport that flies under the radar in Australia and New Zealand but is big in Europe and parts of South America and Africa.

Watching the attacking players launch – and then stay suspended in mid air – before a thunderous shot was a great sight to see, as was the passion of the respective fans.

Michael Burgess will write from Rio de Janeiro throughout the 2016 Olympic Games.

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