Volleyball to be hot ticket for 2016 Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil's loss to Poland in the final of the men's volleyball world championship on Sunday was a blow to the South Americans, but should boost the sport in two years at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Poland upset three-time defending champion Brazil 3-1 in Katowice to end an astounding three-week tournament in Poland that drew more than 500,000 fans - including 62,000 for the tournament's opening match in Warsaw's national stadium.
Poland won its only other men's volleyball title in 1974, and then took Olympic gold in 1976.
''I have no doubt volleyball is going to be a big success at the Olympics,'' Ary Graca, a Brazilian who heads volleyball's world governing body the FIVB, said in an interview from Poland with The Associated Press.
He suggested it would be among the hottest tickets in Rio.
''I know everybody in Rio,'' Graca joked. ''The politicians are going to asking me for everything.''
Brazil is a dominant player in indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, and the sports are probably No. 2 in the country behind football.
The Olympic volleyball venues in Rio are also on schedule. Several others have been facing well-publicized delays.
The Maracanazinho, a 12,000-seat arena located next to the famous Maracana stadium, has already been built and will host indoor volleyball. And beach volleyball will be played at a temporary venue on Copacabana beach.
''Tonight and the last three weeks have shown that volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the world,'' Graca said. ''The huge numbers of fans in Poland have demonstrated that volleyball can be a spectacular festival of sport and entertainment. This gives us real momentum going into Rio 2016 where the Brazilian passion for volleyball will ensure one of the greatest Olympic competitions of all time.''
Graca described the atmosphere at the tournament as ''like football'' with fans singing, swaying and chanting.
''Football is not so popular here (in Poland) as in the rest of the world, and volleyball has taken its place,'' Graca said. ''It's amazing the popularity of the volleyball here.''
Volleyball officials say the sellout for the opener on Aug. 30 between Poland and Serbia was the largest crowd to attend a volleyball match since 95,000 crowded into the Maracana in 1983 to see Brazil face the Soviet Union in an exhibition match.
Graca said if the Olympic final was played at the Maracana, it would be a sellout.
''For sure,'' he said.
That, of course, will not happen with all matches set to be played indoors.
In addition to three consecutive men's world titles, Brazil's men were silver medalists in the last two Olympics, and won Olympic gold in 2004 and 1992. Brazil lost to Russia in the 2012 gold-medal match, and fell to the United States in 2008 in Beijing.
The Brazilian women are just as good. They have won the last two Olympic gold medals - beating the United States in both finals - and silver at the last two world championships.
The Brazilian men won beach gold in 2004, and the women won gold in 1996.
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP