Beachvolley in Andorra 2005
Andorra will be hosting the next edition of the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) in 2005. During the Games' launching at the New Dolmen Hotel, Malta, Andorra's Olympic Committee announced the disciplines that will be included in the next edition.
Beachvolley was a surprise choice and the Andorrans seem convinced that they will clinch a gold medal in this discipline.
Now Andorra is a landlocked country with no sandy beaches punctuating its boundaries.
The media has to bear the brunt of this stereotype as the discipline has been portrayed as a sexy sport with stunning women sporting skimpy bikinis on sun-drenched beaches.
In reality, beachvolley can be played away from sandy beaches. In Switzerland, the sport is very popular and permanent sand-pitches have been constructed in various parks. No wonder that the Swiss boast some of the best players in the world in beach volleyball.
The discipline received a timely boost during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. While organisers expressed their doubts whether people would be interested in watching this discipline, the venue itself was packed to capacity for every match.
In Malta, we still seem to lack a structured approach to beachvolley. Our sandy beaches seem to attract a healthy share of participation in this sport but with a possible participation in the Games of the Small States of Europe, a strategy has to be implemented by the national association to ensure that the best athletes are selected to compete for Malta in Andorra.
So far, beachvolley tournaments have been entrusted to volleyball clubs, albeit with the blessing of the national association. With thousands of foreign students flocking to Malta during the summer months, such tournaments often entice the participation of foreign couples, thus providing an extra element of competition which is sorely needed.
One of the first such tournaments was held in the summer of 1998 and subsequently in 2000. In 2001, Malta hosted one of the stages of the Sicania professional tournament which was staged at Golden Bay.
Locals were treated to a dose of professional beach volleyball as some of Italy's leading players were in Malta to compete in this tournament.
Hundreds of people preferred to bask on the terraces of the temporary stands that were erected at Golden Bay for this tournament.
There are three sandy beaches in Malta and Gozo that can host beach volleyball: Golden Sands, Pretty Bay and Ramla Bay. Yet, if we want to compete in Andorra, then we have to go beyond the concept of beach volleyball as a summer sport.
A sand pitch has to be set up in a central part of the island which will enable beach volleyball competitions to be held throughout the year.
The Volleyball Association and the Malta Olympic Committee will surely have to face another dilemma in the selection of athletes to compete in beach volleyball at the GSSE since the current champions in this discipline happen to be national team players of indoor volleyball.
The profile of beach volleyball needs to be raised to increase participation in this sport. Our choice of athletes is already limited and we cannot afford to drop key players who play indoor volleyball for the sake of competing in beach volleyball.
I have been told that the Volleyball Association is already drawing up a plan to host a national championship for beach volleyball.
Elite contract scheme
The two teams who claim the respective championships will then have to be engaged on an elite contract scheme similar to the ones being offered to top sportsmen in other disciplines. This will stipulate that the athletes have to train on a regular basis and compete in a number of international competitions.
The permanent sand pitch will allow the Volleyball Association to organise international tournaments on a regular basis. Blessed by a mild climate, such competitions can even be held in the midst of winter.
With two players comprising a beach volleyball team, I reckon we stand a good chance of identifying two athletes who will excel in this competition.
I am sure that other countries are already scouring their talents in order to nominate their best possible shots at a medal in the competition.
With the Games spanning an average of five days, volleyball and beach-volley are likely to be held concurrently. This signals the urgent need for the finalisation of a strategy that will have to be in place as early as next January.
Eventually, the association would also need to recruit the services of a qualified beach volleyball coach to help our athletes hone their skills in this discipline.
Such strategy will also need to ascertain that none of the current conditions and training programmes for indoor volleyball are hindered.
Indoor volleyball has come a long way in the last decade and the exciting prospects of competing in a new discipline should not be the means to weaken the achievements registered in other areas.
In that case, it would be better if Malta had to forfeit its participation in beach volleyball in Andorra in May 2005.