Devised in the Netherlands in 1956 as a rehabilitation activity for injured soldiers, sitting volleyball is now one of the most popular Paralympic team sports.
Sitting volleyball is a team sport featuring constant motion and bursts of explosive action. Separated by a net, two teams of six players try to score points by grounding the ball onto the other side's court. It became an official sport for men at the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games and for women at Athens 2004.
Players need to have speed, strength and stamina, as well as excellent technical skills and the ability to think quickly and tactically. With more than 10,000 athletes involved in over 75 countries, sitting volleyball is a truly global game.
Each team is allowed three touches of the ball (in addition to a legal block) before it must cross over the net. The key attacking move is the set and spike, in which a player feeds the ball (set) for a teammate to hit into the opposition's court (spike).
A match has a maximum of five sets, with each set being won by the first team to reach 25 points (15 in the fifth set) and be 2 points clear of the opposition. The rules are based on the FIVB rules for able-bodied volleyball, with a few minor modifications. The sitting version requires a smaller court (10m x 6m) and a lower net (1.15m for men, 1.05m for women).
An important rule is that players must be sitting and their torso — between buttocks and shoulders — must maintain contact with the floor when playing the ball. The exception is that "lifting" off the floor is allowed if the ball is played in a defensive action below the net height at the moment of ball contact. Athletes move around the court by sliding using the power of their arms, without leaving a sitting position.
Two gold medals will be at stake at Tokyo 2020 in the men's and women's competitions.
- Team tournament (Men/Women)
Essence of the Sport
Strategies for success
Sitting volleyball is a hugely tactical game both in attack and defence. The skill of serving the ball can be developed as a powerful weapon of attack but, at the same time, accuracy to avoid the opponent's blocking action at the net is essential.
Each team has a specialist defensive player called a libero, who may not play any attacking shots. The libero is easy to identify as their kit is a different colour to the rest of the team. The libero has a pivotal role but all players must be able to defend as a group. Compared to Olympic volleyball, sitting volleyball is a much faster game since the court is smaller and the net lower, thus enabling the attacking, spiking and serving actions to be fired at relatively close range.
The sitting volleyball scoring system enables a point to be scored for every play by either team, ensuring that the game advances quickly to the necessary 25 points per set (with a two-point advantage). The fifth set, if required, is played to 15 points with a two-point advantage being required.
Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games
Stars on court
The sitting volleyball competition at Tokyo 2020 will feature eight teams in each of the men's and women's competitions, with qualification through continental events. A preliminary round-robin will determine the rankings for a knockout round.
Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina have contested the men's gold medal match at the last five Paralympic Games, with Iran emerging victorious at Rio 2016. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has won gold on six occasions, after a period when the Netherlands was the leading team.
In the women's game, the USA overcame three-time champion China to take the gold medal in Rio, with home fans cheering Brazil to bronze after their victory against Ukraine.
One of the most prominent athletes at Rio 2016 was Iran's Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, known as Mehrzad. At a staggering 2.46m tall he is the world's second tallest man and the tallest athlete ever to compete at a Paralympic Games. Born with acromegaly due to a congenital hormonal imbalance and later suffering an accident which means he uses a wheelchair or crutches in everyday life, Mehrzad applied his height to great effect on the court.
Playmaker Kaleo Kanahele Maclay was one of the stars of the USA team in Rio. Considered one of the best setters and most consistent servers in the world, Kanahele Maclay began playing aged nine. She gained a silver medal while still a teenager at London 2012 and went one better four years later.
The official rules specify non-marking indoor sports shoes, which are lightweight and soft, with a rubber sole and no heel.