(ATR) Candidates for FIVB president tell Around the Rings the first contested election in their federation’s 65-year history comes at a critical time for volleyball.
"I think the sport is really on the verge of exploding," USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal tells ATR.
With the beach competition at Horse Guards Parade and indoor at Earl’s Court, volleyball was certainly one of the showcase sports at London 2012.
"In the next four years leading to Rio," adds Beal, "volleyball could easily be the most identified signature sport of the Olympic Games."
According to Ary Graca, volleyball is already more popular in his native Brazil than the beloved Formula 1, second only to football.
"We’ve proved here how big volleyball can be," says the president of the South American Volleyball Confederation.
The president of the Australian Volleyball Federation anticipates volleyball will be the most watched sport of Rio 2016 among the people of Brazil.
"What we have to do between now and then," Chris Schacht tells ATR, "is encourage more countries to enter teams to compete for qualification for both indoor and beach volleyball so we grow the sport all around the world."
That’s about the last aspect of the FIVB on which all three candidates agree.
Beal, Graca and Schacht will stand for election Friday at the FIVB World Congress in Anaheim, California with the winner to assume office as just the fourth volleyball president to date.
Jizhong Wei, who said from day one he would not stand for reelection, took over the FIVB in late 2008 following the retirement of longtime federation leader Ruben Acosta, who himself succeeded the 37-year presidency of Paul Libaud.
After more than two decades under Acosta, whose rule Beal describes as "very closed shop" and "autocratic" even, Graca insists the FIVB needs a "shock" of credibility to regain support among sponsors, media and the IOC.
Friday's election, says Schact, is the beginning of that turnaround.
"It really does show that the FIVB can start governing itself hopefully more in tune with what is expected in the 21st century, not what might have been appropriate 50 years ago."
Change from Within
Graca cites a management problem within sport at large and envisions a new way of conducting business at volleyball headquarters in Lausanne.
"Inside FIVB, the departments are not connected," the former banker says, stressing the need for more communication and cooperation inside the sprawling Swiss chateau.
Schacht argues the answer is to recruit staff who possess a wider range of skills and who come from a wider range of continents. Also needed, he says, are new rules to ensure professional management of the sport.
According to Beal, change must come from the ground up, so he suggests the FIVB’s governing documents be rewritten and its Board of Administration rethought.
Another of his pet projects would be to create promotional events like an annual convention or awards banquet.
"We’ve talked about making ‘Heroes’ out of the high-profile players," he tells ATR.
"Let’s honor them on an annual basis or the federation that’s won the most events."
"Always the Same"
To date, across both beach and indoor, only 17 countries can be called Olympic or world champions, and four of those no longer exist due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"The finals are always the same," says Graca, insisting the sport must spread its markets in order achieve global success.
"I’m committed to ensuring that more countries have the opportunity to be able to improve their competitiveness and therefore enter and play in world championships, Olympic Games and our world junior and youth championships," adds Schacht.
According to Beal, the key lies not indoors, but outside on the beach.
"Out of the 220 national federations," he explains, "I think almost 170 are what we would classify as small – category 1 or category 2 – that really have limited opportunities to compete in the indoor world and much greater opportunities to compete in the beach world. It’s a tremendous strength of our sport."
With the confederation presidents for Asia, Africa and the Americas already backing Graca – and the Brazilian, of course, controlling South America – it’s these smaller federations from which Beal is expecting a good bit of his support to come.
The problem: Schacht too says that’s his voting base.
"Coming from an area like Oceania where 19 out of our 20 national federations are category 1 and 2," he tells ATR."I am very aware that the number one issue for the FIVB is development programs for the 150 category 1 and 2 countries that are in the FIVB."
How those 150+ smaller federations split their votes could well be the key to whether Beal or Schacht can challenge the concentration of power Gracy already seems to grasp at the confederation level.
Going to Disneyland
Beal jokes that he hopes he gets a home-court advantage at what’s shaping up to be the best-attended Congress the FIVB’s ever held.
"I’m sure Anaheim and Disneyland have a bit to do with that," he admits.
"We’re going to put on a first-class Congress, and if it helps me get elected, I’m not going to turn it down."
In his bid to become USA’s only sitting federation president for an Olympic sport, Beal says he’s fully aware his heritage will help him in the eyes of some voters but hurt him in the eyes of others.
"I’m trying to certainly acknowledge that I’m from the United States, but I’m running as Doug Beal, I’m running on my history and my background in the sport," says the FIVB board member, who played on the U.S. national team for seven years, coached in three Olympics and won a gold medal in 1984.
As the head of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation since 1997, Graca is focusing on his development work at home, including his "Viva Volei" project helping 200,000 children in 13 states of Brazil to get off the streets and into the classroom – as well as the volleyball court.
"This system must go to Africa and Asia immediately," he says, suggesting the rest of the world follow Brazil’s lead.
"When I was player, volleyball was nothing here," Graca tells ATR.
"If you change something in a big country like Brazil, almost a continent, you can do it all over the world."
Whereas both Beal and Graca talk a lot about change, Schacht says he’s the one campaigning directly as a new reform candidate.
"I’m known in many countries already as the one who has spoken up for better democracy, governance, transparency, accountability, and I think people therefore know that if I were elected president, I would bring those higher levels of those issues to the way volleyball would be run," says the Aussie.
"I think the Congress has a very good opportunity to choose among the three candidates over what should be the future of volleyball over the next four to eight years."
Reported by Matthew Grayson
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