Reporting from Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro – While the Olympic Park may be the centre of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the heart and soul is right here at legendary Copacabana Beach and the Beach Volleyball Arena.
After all, it’s on one of the most iconic beaches in the world – and in a country that oozes the culture of the sport. Unlike the Horse Guard’s Parade venue at London 2012 or Chaoyang Park at Beijing 2008 – in Rio it’s on an actual Beach complete with original sand, the fresh sea breeze and the laid back culture. How novel is that?! Very – only on Bondi Beach at Sydney’s 2000 Games has a real beach been the site for the event previously.
It’s a beautiful venue rocking a youthful soundtrack and accommodating an energetic and festive crowd. Almost like a musical stage production, fans randomly break out into song during play, and not just because the announcer encourages them. Though in advance of the matches a DJ helps train the audience with dance moves that match his planned set list. Yes, a DJ.
Though the capacity is only at about thirty percent as I write – for a mid-day early-round match between men’s teams from Qatar and Spain – The crowd is a sea of green and yellow with Brazilian flags everywhere. At times the roars from the crowd are deafening, well exceeding 100 decibels, (according to my rudimentary app) earplugs may be a requirement for an at capacity crowd. And wait, was that the Macarena?
But there is a reason for the flags, Qatar team member Jefferson Pereira was born and raised in Rio, and the fans know it. Beach Volleyball is in the DNA of these Cariocas. Stroll down the beach and you’ll see all of the evidence you need – casual matches everywhere. If they’re not watching, they are playing.
It’s probably no coincidence that this temporary venue received a lot of thoughtful attention through planning, development and construction. Rio 2016 Organizing Committee Chief Carlos Nuzman played Olympic Volleyball for Brazil’s national team the first year it became an Olympic sport in 1964, and he was Honorary President of the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Council. He was also the head of the bid committee that won Brazil the contract to host these Games.
Beach Volleyball at the Rio Games is definitely one sport that plays out better in person than on a screen. Try to imagine a sandy court at the centre of a dance club – and watching gladiators compete as you celebrate. The small field-of-play and intimate environment in the open air give great sight lines from every seat, and without the cavernous stadium feel.
It really is a party here – and just to further emphasize that it’s more of a celebration than a sport, a quick glance at the match schedule shows final contests of the day start at midnight – including the Gold Medal finals August 17 and 18.
By then, the seats will be full.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.