x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A sunny future awaits footvolley after World Cup in Dubai

Osman Samiuddin believes the sport, which is so rich in skill and a lot of fun to watch, will grow in popularity.

Brazil may have won the Footvolley World Cup, but the competition certainly won the hearts of those who came to watch.
Brazil may have won the Footvolley World Cup, but the competition certainly won the hearts of those who came to watch.

The question to ask is not: "What is footvolley?" That is - or should be - self-explanatory. It is volleyball but with no hands allowed. On sand. There is not, incidentally, as much use of the feet as you may imagine; the head, chest, thighs and shoulders come into it far more, but head-and-chest volley does not have quite the ring to it.

No, the question to ask, at the Footvolley World Cup in Dubai, is: Why is it not a bigger sport, why is it not a bigger part of the popular imagination?"

It is a game of unthinkable skill and athleticism and a deftness of touch from parts of the body - head and chest in particular - not given to deft touches.

Maybe it is not as jaw-droppingly athletic as Sepak Tekraw, the Thai cousin of the sport (In actual fact, footvolley began as a five-a-side game as well but was eventually chiselled down to just two players).

That, played with a smaller ball and more people on synthetic surfaces, produces human physical motion which just should not be possible.

That combines the mid-air capability of the body-twisting of Olympic divers, with the natural leap of basketball players, with the flexibility of gymnasts, with the ball-skill of footballers.

But on a visual scale, footvolley is as compelling to watch as any sport.

There are things happening here that are not seen every day in sporting contest; a leap to as high as a 2.2 metre-high net to dink over the ball with a foot; a drop shot played with your head. In an exhibition game before the final, there were a number of leaping overhead kicks and sidefooted flicks.

And it is played on sand, which is as conducive to ball games as rock music arenas might be to a game of chess.

The physical demands are high; there is no flab on display here it can be safely assumed.

"The game is a difficult one and it requires intense physical strength and fitness," said Mohammad Rashid, who partnered Jamal Saif for the UAE side in the tournament. "But it also needs a lot of concentration, anticipation and control."

Maybe it could be chess, but it makes sense that many of the best players are former footballers, including Saif, who played for Al Shabab.

The crowds on the final day, about 500 or so, may have been small in number but grew increasingly vocal and were clearly entertained by what they saw. This is the first the UAE has seen of top-level footvolley and it may not be the last.

"Without you this would be pretty boring," said the MC at one stage to the fans. That does not credit the beauty of the sport but the sentiment was understandable.

"Not many people here were familiar with the game, so in that sense, this tournament has been good in creating awareness," said Rashid. "There's been good support. Slowly, slowly it can grow here."

And finally, there is one discovery which football made some years ago: though everybody appears to be playing the same game, the Brazilians, easily the most popular players, seem to play it with just that much more style and ease than everyone else.


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