Japan taking on Australia during the Asia Pacific Junior Beach Volleyball Championship in Chennai on Monday. |D Sampath Kumar
Beach volleyball is perhaps unique in that the women’s game is a bigger draw than men’s.
Not that the women’s version is ultra-competitive, but rather the players are obliged by the sport’s ruling constitution’s stipulation that the bottom half of the female competitors’ kit can feature “no more than 6cm of cloth at the hip”.
It adheres to the universal truism than sex sells and in beach volleyball there is a lot of sex to sell. This has always been a sport associated with having a good time. A decade or so after volleyball was invented in 1895 by William G Morgan, the physical director of the Holyoke YMCA in Massachusetts, nets were erected on the shorefront of Hawaii. The beach proved the perfect setting for the game, sand providing a soft landing for any tumble or dive. From there, it took off in California – first, with at least six players per team, as in traditional volleyball.
By the 1920s, two-a-side games had become popular, and the idea stuck. It spread to Europe during the 1930s and 40s, and by the 1980s a full-time professional tour was rolling around the American coast.
But what launched beach volleyball into a wider orbit was its acceptance into the Olympics. After it appeared as a demonstration event in Barcelona in 1992, the first medals were handed out in Atlanta in 1996. The sport took its opportunity with aplomb, and now it has peeved into the more conservative shores of Chennai.
In the space of five years, Chennai has hosted three international beach volleyball events, the latest of them being the Asia Pacific Junior Beach Volleyball Championship. And nine of the 14 Indians were from the city, proof enough that the sport’s popularity is swelling in the city.
To realise the potential of the sport in the city, one just needed to have dropped in at the makeshift stands adjoining the Marina during match-day. The arena was thronged to an extent it has never before been thronged, and the crowds poured in when the sun went down and the breeze blew in. The thumps of ball striking forearm could be heard above the sea, as ball-boys watched from chairs lodged in spaces underneath the rickety galleries, shaded from the sun.