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President Graça: "We are spreading volleyball around the world"

President Graça visited a mini-volleyball event in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki, Greece, June 30, 2015 - FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F° spoke to the Hellenic Volleyball Federation (EOPE) during a visit to the FIVB Volleyball World League Group 3 Pool G matches in Thessaloniki last week, and shared his thoughts and plans for the future of volleyball as the most engaging family sport entertainment in the world. The next challenge, the FIVB President acknowledges, is the conquest of big markets including the United States and China.

Two and a half years after your election as president of the FIVB, are you satisfied with what you have already achieved?

"When I took over, many things were wrong with the federation. There had just been a transition period of four years, during which very little happened. I believe I have been successful in bringing a lot of positive change to the federation.

"I’m creating a basis to launch volleyball all around the world. Indeed, as promised in my campaign, I have pursued a very strong development plan. In the first year, we gave $13m to the confederations to be spent solely on development. The following year, I gave $13m more in the hope that it would help spread the sport and its benefits all around the world.

"These efforts were successful. Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, we had only 31 countries participating in the qualification system, which represented just six per cent of the FIVB's member associations. For London 2012, we had a new qualification system in place and 143 countries competed to participate in the Olympics. Today, ahead of Rio 2016, 195 of our 221 members are competing for qualification, which is a vast increase over the space of just three Olympic Games.

"I have also ensured strong investment in beach volleyball and worked with the member association presidents to energise their interest in expanding beach volleyball. Beach volleyball is a very entertaining sport and is low-cost, because there are only two players per team. I believe that development is successful when you are able to spread fervour for the sport around the world and get people excited about it. It is not traditional volleyball, but it will definitely be a part of the future of sporting events if the word is spread about this "wonderful game.

"Of course I have other plans too, but for now beach volleyball is taking off and I am excited to be part of this process. Indeed, countries who would never have imagined playing volleyball are doing so, thanks to beach volleyball."

Apart from development, what are the other main changes you have brought and what are your priorities for the remainder of your tenure?

"Some people don’t like this, but for me the most important thing is that I run the FIVB like a business. The ethos of the sports industry is absolutely correct, but it is important to remember that the athletes do need to be paid. Nostalgic ideas about the way things were run in the past do not help the smooth running of the federation and our ambitions for the future.

"The FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship in Poland cost $26m in total. The price tag means that we have to continue to spread our market. Today we can say to the sponsors that we have more than 190 countries playing volleyball and that the sport is spreading to countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. Although it is impossible to reach the four corners of the world in under four years, coverage of the sport is growing exponentially, thanks to the media and social platforms.

"I was president of the Brazilian federation for 18 years. I began with an annual budget of only $2m and when I left I had brought it up to $60m."

The global crisis has had an enormous impact in the world of sport in the last five years. Are you worried about further financial development of the sport?

"By answering your question, there is a big message I want to send to Greece. I’ve worked in economics for almost 50 years and Ι have learned that “crisis” is a synonym for “opportunity”. You must beg foreign TV stations and go to sponsors or convince the government that the sport is worthwhile enough to keep it afloat. It is not necessary to have money in the beginning, but it is vital to work hard in order to raise a budget. Volleyball has risen from sixth most popular sport in Brazil to second, just behind football - and this is because we used our crises to our advantage. Similarly, if Greece has a big crisis in its economy, then it is time for the national federation to work hard and take advantage of the situation for the benefit of the athletes.

"I believe very strongly in the African Dream project and urge all countries to get involved. The FIVB is promising to provide funding to each member association that presents a project to their government resulting in 33 per cent government funding. A further 33 per cent will be funded by the IOC, through the Olympic solidarity programme.

"The FIVB has a great desire to help develop volleyball in Africa. It will take 10 years before we achieve our goals so we have to start today.

"The FIVB has been given new opportunities in important new markets such as the United States and China. In the last 30 years, no World Championships were held in the USA. However, this year, after talking to TV, sponsors and promoters, we will have three Grand Slam beach volleyball tournaments taking place there, including the final of the women’s Grand Prix in Omaha.

"The United States is a lucrative market for volleyball. The state of California alone has a very strong economy. If we manage to engage 3 per cent of the US sports market, we will see a return of more than 100 per cent of what we have now. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen tomorrow, we need time.

"At the FIVB Congresses we see very rich and influential countries which, unfortunately, still have an old fashioned mentality and believe that no profit should be made out of sport. I believe that I am proving that without money the sport cannot continue to grow."

How do you know this strategy is successful?

"I know that this strategy is successful because I can see the results. The World League started with eight countries, then it was 12, then 16, but I went directly to 32 countries. I wanted to give opportunities to more countries to develop.
"It is also very important to see far into the future and be patient for long term results and successes. For example, the FIVB's Group 3 Division is losing money, but we see it as part of our development plan and as an investment for the future. We also need to look to other markets; I think like a businessman.

"Greece is a market that we have to recover. I remember a decade ago when the Greek team played against Brazil and it was a success. The Greek clubs were very strong and they were signing many Brazilian players. It is important we get back to this situation. If you have a solid project and you are honest, the sponsors will put money in your hands."

Do you think that the project of the Hellenic Federation can be successful?

"The president is very open to new ideas and is leading a group of motivated individuals, who represent the future. I will not leave without fully preparing and supporting these people. But most of all, the president is honest and a very hard worker. His team are idealists and, with a little help, they have revitalized volleyball in Greece. I think they will be very successful."

The return to the FIVB World League was a major step for Greek volleyball. What do you think the next step should be?

"I think the next step should be schools. What I mean by that is that the government and schools should be convinced of the same theory I used when I talked to my government. They must be convinced that volleyball is a sport in which there is no fighting, there is no contact and there is no violence – it is an exemplary sport. It is excellent for new generations and it is also a sport which promotes gender equality at all levels. When I was at school, the boys were given a ball to play football and girls were expected to do nothing. It is vital to give girls and boys the same opportunities and believe equally in their sporting abilities. Indeed, women make up 65 per cent of the volleyball family. It is a sport that attracts both sexes. The introduction of volleyball in schools is a fantastic way to teach non-violence and equality.

"It is important to deliver to the spectators what they want to see. People are tired of wars and fighting and volleyball offers people a haven within which they can feel secure and excel."


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