In the summer of 1996, Michel Everaert travelled to Atlanta, Georgia in the United States to play beach volleyball at the Olympic Games. This was the first year it was an official Olympic sport, and Everaert – 33 at the time – was competing in a 10,000-seat stadium built on Atlanta Beach. ‘I played terribly – we lost all our games!’ he says, laughing.
Nonetheless, Everaert was thrilled just to be there. ’It was a life-changing experience. It made me what I am,’he says, ‘I saw how entertaining it was for the fans. How big it was. It is like the discotheque of the Olympics. It is a huge party. People want to be there, they are happy, it is fun. It is a celebration.’
Today, Everaert is the President of the European Beach Volleyball Commission (EBVC), and he is currently overseeing the return of the sport to competitive matches after months on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As it depends on the warm, sunny weather of spring and summer, the beach volleyball season is short in any case. Crucial weeks of competition in May and June have been pushed back to August and September, but Everaert is confident beach volleyball can pick up and blaze a trail for other sports that are resuming. ‘We are starting it up again, and recognizing that there are challenges,’ he says.
Professional beach volleyball is arranged through tournaments and organisers are working to ensure the health and safety of both players and fans this summer. The first major tournament of 2020 will be a World Tour event in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana from July 30 to August 2. This will be followed by other events in Montpellier (France), Klaipeda (Lithuania) and Larnaca (Cyprus). The 2020 edition of #EuroBeachVolleyU20, originally scheduled for August, will now run from September 9-13 in the Czech city of Brno.
Everaert is delighted that the season can be saved. ‘This is such good news for both players and fans,’ he says, stressing that they will continue to follow the changing guidelines on medical protocols and social distancing.
But Everaert is keen to underline that beach volleyball is a sport for everyone. “It is a sport that is good for the body and the mind. You can bond with friends and have fun while staying fit at the same time. As a player, you have to do everything. You have to be a complete player. You cannot hide. You have to be mentally strong and alert.’
While every sport helps both physical and mental health and wellbeing, Everaert highlights beach volleyball’s special ability to connect with people. “We believe in doing sport to stay healthy. We believe that people should #BeActive. Why not do it with beach volleyball?’ he says.
Everaert enthusiastically lists the many benefits of beach volleyball:
- It is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, as the shifting sand offers resistance that develops strength-endurance and agility, improving muscle tone.
- It burns more calories and fat than most exercises: a half-hour game of volleyball on sand can burn up to 480 calories.
- The overall health benefits include combatting obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes – and building immune-resistance to diseases.
- Just being outdoors, under the Sun, has many health benefits, including free Vitamin D boosts.
- It improves interpersonal and social skills, as it involves building bonds with people and making new friends.
- It improves the mood and confidence, building up mental health.
All this adds up to a powerful mix. ‘You don’t feel it is hard work. It feels like fun, a game. The holiday feeling makes it special,’ Everaert says.
Beach volleyball has grown since 1996 to become one of the most popular Olympic sports, regularly packing in some of the most impassioned crowds of the games. ‘Other sports need to be totally quiet to play. We are totally the opposite – we love to make noise. You bring the atmosphere of the beach. It is a workout, but it feels like a holiday.’