GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - With sun, surf and the stunning backdrop of Coolangatta’s glittering shoreline, beach volleyball has enjoyed a stellar Commonwealth Games debut at the Gold Coast but tournament organisers are still wary it could be spiked from the programme in 2022.
The beach culture of Australia’s tourism mecca has been a natural fit for the sport. Suncream-lathered fans have packed out the 4,000-seat venue and stomped on the terraces to thumping, electronic music throughout.
The landlocked English city of Birmingham would provide an entirely different setting in four years’ time, though London staged an acclaimed urban beach volleyball tournament at Horse Guards Parade during the 2012 Olympics.
Just like the Olympics, where sports lobby hard to be included in the programme, beach volleyball is jostling with a number of other federations for space at Birmingham.
The Games feature 10 core sports, including athletics, swimming and boxing. Local organisers then have the right to add several others to the programme, choosing from a list of sports ranging from table tennis to triathlon.
Surprisingly for a Games held on one of Australia’s most popular stretches of sand, beach volleyball was not among the first of the non-core sports to be confirmed at the Gold Coast.
While organisers GOLDOC and the Queensland state government spent millions on setting up the venue in Coolongatta, the national federation, Volleyball Australia, also had to kick in some of its own funds to cover the accommodation costs of 48 athletes from 12 nations competing.
“GOLDOC did not bid to include beach volleyball. It was only added as an option after GOLDOC had won the Games,” Volleyball Australia president Craig Carracher told Reuters at the venue on Thursday.
“Unusually, but thankfully anyway, because it meant we got into the Games, we did fund several hundred thousand dollars towards the event, which is a bit unusual for a sport, and one nation within the sport, to have to fund that cost base for all athlete participants.
“But it got us into the Games and that’s all we care about.”
With the tournament sold out, Carracher can claim it money well spent but the real pay-off will be if it helps sway Birmingham organisers and Commonwealth Games officialdom to stage a repeat in four years.
Beach volleyball has been an official Olympic sport since the 1996 Atlanta Games but has been made to wait by the Commonwealth Games Federation.
Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that has ever won an Olympic gold, their team of Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst winning the women’s title at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach in 2000.
The hosts have flexed their muscles at the Gold Coast, with both their men’s and women’s teams marching into the gold medal deciders against Canadian opponents.
But the tournament has also given some tiny nations their place in the sun, with Vanuatu to play Cyprus for the women’s bronze later on Thursday.
“The fact that this might inspire other people to play the game and for beach volleyball to become a little bit part of the sporting vernacular — rather than something that’s considered as a peripheral sport that comes round every four years at the Olympics — then our investment’s worth while,” said Carracher.
Editing by Peter Rutherford