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Volleyball was created in 1895 in the state of Massachusetts, in the United States, by William Morgan, as an alternative sport for older people who couldn’t cope with the constant physical contact of Basketball (which had been invented some years previously in the same place). Its first name was Mintonette, but it was renamed due to the volleying movement made by the ball when flying over the net.
Just five years after it was created, the sport had already reached Canada, and little by little it spread to many parts of the world. However, the rules varied in each place – in a competition in the Philippines, for example, each team had 16 players.
To resolve this issue, some universal rules were determined in 1918. For example, the number of athletes on each team was decided, and a rule was established that each team could only touch the ball three times before sending it back across the net. In the 1930s, the sport reached Eastern Europe. In 1933, the Soviet Union held its first national championship, and the block move was invented in Czechoslovakia.
The International Volleyball Federation (known by French acronym FIVB) was founded in 1947. It standardised the rules concerning the size of the court (9 metres by 18 metres) and height of the net (2.43 metres for men and 2.24 metres for women). Two years later, the first world championship was held in Rome.
The large number of players across the world was a major reason for Volleyball’s entry into the Olympic programme. This occurred at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, with competitions for both men and women.
The objective is to make the ball hit the floor on the opponents’ side. Matches are played as the best of five sets. The first four sets go until 25 points, or more if necessary to ensure a difference of at least two points. There is no maximum score, so the set continues until the two-point difference is attained. In the fifth set, the rule is the same, but the number of points to be reached is only 15.
Each player has the function of attacking or defending, depending on his or her position on the court. The only exception is the libero, who can replace any member of the team at any moment and has an exclusively defensive role. The libero’s uniform is different from that of the other team members.
Volleyball competitions at the Olympic Games start with 12 teams divided into two groups, with all teams playing against each other. The best four teams in each group go through to the elimination stage, in which the teams that survive face each other to compete for gold. The losers in the semi-finals play for the bronze medal.
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.