The evolving game will make beach volleyball at the Tokyo 2020 Games highly competitive.
Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"
We will show you the rules and highlights of volleyball in one minute. Whether you are familiar with volleyball or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
Beach volleyball derives from indoor volleyball but is played by teams of two on a sand court. It first appeared in Santa Monica, California in the early 1920s. Originally a recreational pursuit, it developed rapidly into a popular and thriving sport. By the 1930s, the game had reached southern and eastern Europe, long before a professional players’ organisation was established in the USA in the 1980s. The first international tournament sanctioned by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) was held in 1987, and an international circuit was launched in 1990. Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut at Barcelona 1992 as a demonstration sport, before it became part of the sports programme at Atlanta 1996.
Beach volleyball uses a slightly smaller court than the indoor game (16m x 8m) and is divided in half by a net. The height of the net is the same as the indoor game: 2.43m for men and 2.24m for women.
There will be 24 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams competing at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Each competition will begin with six pools of four teams, The first two ranked teams from each pool, and the best two teams that rank third in their respective pools, will advance automatically to the round of 16 of the final phase. The four remaining third-ranked teams in each pool will play a two-match lucky loser round; the two winning teams in the lucky loser round will also qualify for the final phase, making a total of 16 teams.
- 24-team tournament (Men/Women)
2016 Getty Images
Essence of the sport
Strategy and the combinations can make or break the game. The key is having the flexibility to adapt to any situation.
The match is played to the best of three sets, with the first team to reach 21 points in the first two sets winning the set and the first team to win two sets winning the match. However, if each team wins a set, the team to reach 15 points in the final (third) set becomes the winner. A two-point advantage is required to win in each set, e.g. if the score in the final set is 14-14, the team needs to reach 16-14 or 14-16 to win.
Since the wind, sun or rain can have a negative or positive influence on the game, teams switch sides when the sum of the two teams’ scores reaches multiples of seven (five in the final set).
Unlike the indoor game, teams consist of only two players, so there is a lot of open space on the court. Generally, the player in the back makes a call, giving instructions to the front player to tell them where there is open space. At the same time, one of the opposite team’s players is at the net trying to block the spike to prevent the ball from falling in their court. Players must have good reflexes in both offence and defence.
The skills required are similar to the indoor game, but increasingly taller players have been appearing on the world scene, with some men’s players over 2.1m and some women’s players over 1.9m. These players also have outstanding skills, and spikes have become an incredible spectacle to watch.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
USA and Brazil have earned the most medals in the past, but the power balance is changing.
In the six Olympic Games since Atlanta 1996, the USA has won 10 medals including 6 golds, while Brazil has won 13 medals including 3 golds. However, the results of the 2019 FIVB World Championships indicate that the gap is closing.
Neither the USA or Brazil won a medal in the men’s competition, with Russia, Germany and Norway standing on the podium. Meanwhile, Canada won the title in the women’s draw with the USA second and Australia third.
The current world champions are Russia, having triumphed in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships.
Norway’s pairing Anders Mol and Christian Sørum are considered an emerging powerhouse. Mol has outstanding athletic ability and is good at blocking spikes. The pair have been playing together since 2016 and have won the European Championships twice.
Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada are ones-to-watch since winning the 2019 World Cup title. Also keep an eye on Germany’s Laura Ludwig, who won a gold at the Rio 2016 Games but only recently returned to beach volleyball in 2019 following maternity leave at the age of 33.
Although the balls used in beach volleyball are almost the same size as those used in Volleyball, they're inflated to a 30 per cent lower air pressure. This means they are softer and move more slowly.