Thinking About… Volleyball’s Olympics Problem

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In an interview last week, I was asked about volleyball and the Olympics.  My answer was that the Olympics is the biggest problem for volleyball.  While the answer is slightly tongue in cheek, the reasoning behind it is not.

Volleyball as a world wide sport is not self funding.  With a few notable exceptions, the foundations of high performance, a professional league and / or comprehensive development program, cannot be funded directly by sponsors and / or national federations.  The majority of funding in the majority of countries comes from government sources.

In the last 30 years or so, in a deliciously ironic hangover of the communist era, the Olympics have become the centrepiece of government sporting policy (read nationalism).  And medals won has become the sole measuring stick for this policy.  This has been a boon for small, individual sports that provide a relatively cheap path to medals.  Beach volleyball has been the beneficiary of this policy development.  But for larger team sports, it has been a disaster.  They offer a single medal, the cost of which is very high, and so funding has suffered.

That is the environment in which we work, so there is no point in complaining about it.  We need to find solutions.   The obvious solution is to become independent of government funding.  We have had over 100 years to manage that so far, so it is unlikely to change in the short term.

If the number and ease of winning Olympic medals are the basis of decision making the next solution is to increase the number of medals available.  I can think of two ways to achieve this goal.

The first is to convince the IOC to count each individual medal presented to an athlete on its official medal tally.  Then volleyball would have 12 medals.  But in that case, so would basketball.  And football would have 23. And swimming would just add three relays.  And rowing would add a lightweight 8s.  And we would be right back where we started.

The second way would be to award individual medals during the team competition.  For example, there could be four extra medals: Top Scorer, Best Spiker, Best Blocker, Best Server (i.e. statistical awards, sorry setters and liberos).  They would be presented at the end of the preliminary round.  For qualification purposes, there would be a wildcard given to a team with an outstanding individual player who could challenge for a medal.  Imagine the interest in every single match of the preliminary rounds as different teams with different goals applied different strategies to maximise their medal chances.  Some teams would be aiming for an individual medal, while others would be aiming for a team medal.  It would be like a cycling Grand Tour.  How would a team’s tactical approach change if they had a player trying to win the blocking gold?  How would it play out in the last preliminary round match if two teams were trying to win the Top Scorer gold for one of their players?  Or if the team was already in the quarter finals, but their Best Spiker medal candidate had a slight injury that should be rested? Do they take the medal on offer?

I don’t know what the final solution is, but I know that what we are doing is not working (see Einstein, Insanity).

 

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