Lately you may have seen a strange marriage of soccer and volleyball playing out on your local beach. It’s called footvolley.
Footvolley was created – where else? – in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But it’s been gaining popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Last year footvolley took a big step when a demonstration tournament was held in Rio as part of the Summer Olympics celebration. And this week Miami Beach is hosting one of footvolley’s biggest events to date: the 2017 World Footvolley Classic.
Here is South Florida, the name most associated with footvolley is Sergio Menezes. Menezes was born in Brazil and lives in Miami Beach; and he’s president of the Pro Footvolley Tour as well as a member of the U.S. team. WLRN’s Tim Padgett sat down with Menezes to talk about the Classic – and why he thinks footvolley is the international sport of the future.
PADGETT: I’ll admit I became a footvolley fan as soon as I was introduced to it at one of your international tournaments up in Deerfield Beach a couple years ago. But for those not familiar with footvolley: Why was it created?
MENEZES: The sport was created in the 1960s sort of out of necessity for Brazilian soccer players. They would bring the ball to the beach; and at that time there was a ban on soccer being played on the beach in Rio de Janeiro. So since they couldn’t play soccer, they made their way over to the beach volleyball courts – and just like that a sport was born.
So walk us through how the game proceeds.
It’s basically beach volleyball with a soccer ball. Two players on each side – and you don’t use your hands. They serve the ball by kicking it off a small mound of sand. But then once you see the skill level and difficulty of how you set the ball with your feet, your thighs, chest and shoulders and not just get it over the net but place it to your partner near the net so he or she can attack the ball, you realize how badass this sport really is.
For example, we changed some of the rules where if you spike the ball with your foot it counts as two points…
And that’s called…
The shark attack.
And how high is the net?
Six feet, ten inches.
So we’re talking about athletes getting their feet six feet-10 inches over a net and then spiking the ball down and falling back onto the ground without breaking something.
Exactly. The way you do it, it’s similar to doing a high jump. And you can’t touch the net, either. It’s just really a spectacular play.
When did you start playing, and how did you get so passionate about it?
I went to the University of Miami for grad school, and I was a big soccer person. And we would be on Miami Beach and a lot of times we couldn’t get enough people to play soccer. So it just became sort of a hobby in the beginning. But then it also became, Hey, wait a second, this is really fun to play – this is such a cool sport. So we thought to ourselves, Why isn’t this a bigger sport, you know? And I think a lot of business ideas and stuff like that usually start with that question.
How big is the Pro Footvolley Tour here in the U.S. now? You’ve had some success getting TV exposure and sponsorships, right?
Correct. We’ve been expanding into different markets. You have footvolley now on a lot of regional sports networks: we air in L.A., we air in Chicago, in Seattle…
South Florida as well?
No, we don’t air in South Florida, unfortunately, because the regional sports network here competes with the regional sports network chain that we do air on. But we’re doing a deal with a regional Latin American broadcaster; we are about to close a major deal with a major broadcaster in America, which I really can’t say right now. So we’re on the forefront of pushing a sport that doesn’t have a billionaire owner behind it.
Who are the teams that folks will be seeing at the World Classic on Miami Beach this week? Should we expect the Brazilians to dominate. Who are the best teams in the world right now?
In the footvolley world Brazil is so far advanced compared to everybody else – as is Paraguay. For these two teams, the sport’s just been there longer. In this event, we also have Germany coming back since we lost to them in Rio and so they’re the first team we put on the list to invite, seeking some revenge.
But then you also have Argentina. And then there’s two teams for Team USA. And we’re really hoping South Florida can come out and support Team USA, because the four athletes from Team USA are all from South Florida.
Do you ever see this becoming a bona fide Olympic sport?
It’s about which sports have the most commercial appeal; which sports can sell tickets. Footvolley has a ton of commercial appeal and it can sells tickets. So I think it has a really good chance of becoming an Olympic sport.
The 2017 World Footvolley Classic runs Thursday through Sunday on South Beach at Ocean Drive and 12th Street in Lummus Park.