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FIVB's Influence to Lessen in U.S. Olympic Qualifying

June 06, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The oft-criticized Olympic beach volleyball qualifying process will undergo substantial changes after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, a face-lift that is universally welcomed by U.S. players who have denounced the arduous process since the sport debuted as an event in 1996.

A one-page letter from the International Olympic Committee to the U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed the USOC has jurisdiction in determining which teams represent the U.S., a mandate that decreases the power of FIVB, the sport's international governing body.

Under the current qualification system, teams can make the Olympics only by successfully competing in FIVB tournaments around the world during a 14-month span in such places as Poland, China, France and Indonesia.

U.S. players over the years have complained about the cost of travel, length of time spent overseas and lack of power demonstrated by U.S. interests in fighting for a more equitable qualifying process.

FIVB was instrumental in beach volleyball's Olympic debut in 1996, but critics contended it held too much control over qualifying.

After the Athens Olympics, FIVB will determine how many teams each country sends to the Olympics, usually two men's and two women's teams for the U.S., but will not be able to specify which teams qualify from each country, a duty that will fall on the shoulders of individual nations, according to the letter issued by the IOC.

The decision to decrease FIVB's control is simply "part of the Olympic Charter," said Steve Roush, director of sport partnerships for the USOC.

"I'm not sure how they were able to take the power of actually naming the athletes, which is one step beyond what any other international federation has," Roush said. "I think this is reeling back in the authority they assumed without anybody there to fight off."

Karch Kiraly, who won the beach volleyball gold medal with Kent Steffes in 1996, said giving the U.S. control over determining its own Olympic teams "seemed only right."

"Leading up to Sydney, there was only one tournament out of 24 held on American soil that counted toward [Olympic] qualification," he said. "I have always wanted there to be more American control over the naming of American teams."

One possible qualification process for the 2008 Beijing Olympics would have U.S. teams accruing points internationally as well as on the domestic Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour to determine seeded teams for a U.S. Olympic trials.

"Being able to market an Olympic trials or series here within our country is a very valuable thing for both the athletes and the AVP and USA Volleyball and the USOC," Roush said. "An event involved with that could be a big win for all parties and the fans as well."

But Sinjin Smith, president of the FIVB beach volleyball council, said there is a "bunch of issues" that would accompany changing the current qualifying format.

Nations with comparatively strong domestic tours, such as Brazil and the U.S., could easily conduct their own Olympic trials, but nations with smaller or nonexistent domestic tours would be at a disadvantage, Smith said.

"It works in the U.S. and probably in Brazil, but can you put on an event that would make a difference in the other countries that are trying to qualify for the Olympics?" Smith said. "It's got to be something that's fair to the rest of the world."

None of the U.S. players and administrators interviewed said they favored severing ties completely with FIVB, underscoring the importance of pre-Olympic competition against international players.

"There's got to be a way that the FIVB world tour and the AVP domestic tour can not only coexist but reinforce each other in terms of their meaningfulness and the support they can bring to the athletes," said Kerry Klostermann, USA Volleyball general secretary. "Tennis has done it, golf has done it, certainly I think beach volleyball can do it."



Beach Volleyball Facts

* What: Hermosa Beach Open, of The Assn. of Volleyball Professionals.

* When: Today through Sunday.

* Where: Hermosa Beach Pier.

* Teams to watch: Men -- Eric Fonoimoana and Dax Holdren; Brent Doble and Karch Kiraly; Stein Metzger and Kevin Wong. Women -- Misty May and Kerri Walsh, Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs; Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan.

* Fast fact: Albert Hannemann and Jeff Nygaard won the men's competition last year; McPeak and Youngs won the women's.

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