The discomfort is permanent for nine out of ten Brazilian athletes who do not play with the balls at their feet. They complain, and rightly so, about the exaggerated emphasis given to football. It is omnipresence that hinders the advancement of other modalities. And yet, here’s a nice surprise, the country of football can also be the country of volleyball. The Sponsorlink survey, carried out by the Ibope Repucom institute, with interviews conducted over the internet, reveals that 87% of the population aged 18 and over are interested in sports. It is a contingent of 96 million people, a number 113% greater than the 45 million who declared themselves lovers of the court game in the first edition of the survey, in 2013. It is an extraordinary leap, a portrait of the frequent victories of the women’s and men’s teams, always on the top. Women have five Olympic medals (gold in 2008 and 2012; silver in 2020; and bronze in 1996 and 2000). Men have climbed the podium six times (gold in 1992, 2004 and 2016; and silver in 1984, 2008 and 2012). “Brazilian volleyball has such a good track record that expectations are always high,” says Adriana Behar, CEO of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation (CBV). “This strengthened engagement and helped bring in more stakeholders.”
As in today’s world everything is spectacle, it would be necessary to add a good dose of entertainment to keep the gyms full and the television stations and streaming services interested in the transmission. It is not by chance that the matches promoted by the CBV have lights, music and shows, in an atmosphere that, even if from leagues away, is reminiscent of the atmosphere of the NBA, the American basketball league. “It goes beyond the game,” summarizes Behar. It should also be noted that the construction of volleyball as a phenomenon — and it is important not to forget the beach couples — was a careful and slow work. If football seems to have existed in Brazil since long before the big bang, convincing the population of the relevance and joy of looting and cutting is the result of a beautiful adventure, filled with marketing ideas that made history.
None of them compares to what happened in 1983, in an arena set up in the center of the Maracanã Stadium. There, Brazil and the Soviet Union played a memorable friendly match in front of more than 95,000 people, an attendance record never equaled in volleyball matches. The Brazilians won, with the presence of Renan dal Zotto, the current coach of the men’s team, and Bernardinho, the supercoach who recently left the command of the French men’s team to be close to his 12-year-old daughter, in Rio. The 1983 challenge had epic stumbles. It was scheduled for July, the month of low rainfall in Rio — however, a toró fell, used to make that night a magical moment, linked to the Star Trek serve, from forward Bernard, who put the ball in the sky, and that time without the roof of a gymnasium interrupting the trajectory. “People think that volleyball started overnight”, says Bernard. No, and after such a long time it seems to have reached its apogee.
On the sands of the metropolis
It happens in other big cities, but it became fashionable in São Paulo. The isolation caused by the pandemic aroused the interest of São Paulo in sand sports. As soon as the health emergency allowed, casual sportsmen began to look for ways to enjoy the “beach” without having to travel to the coast. The result was an explosion of arenas dedicated to sports such as beach volleyball, footvolley and especially beach tennis, a variation of frescobol and badminton that emerged in Italy in the 1980s.
There are more than 700 spaces in the state of São Paulo, 250 of them in the capital alone, some luxurious, with lounges and bars. The practice of sport has grown by more than 250% in the last two years. Companies that produce the specific sands for the courts have seen demand soar, with sponsorship from major brands. There are championships aimed at different skill levels of athletes. “The growing interest translates into a willingness to practice, not at a high level, but as a way of being part of a community”, says Adriana Behar, CEO of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation. And so, a healthy alternative for leisure emerged for São Paulo residents, associated with the strangeness of the unlikely marriage of the landlocked metropolis with the feeling of the seaside.
Published in VEJA on August 3, 2022, issue #2800