LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Volleyball’s governing body wants to see Japan, the birthplace of the sport at the Olympics, recreate its golden era at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, FIVB secretary general Fernando Lima said.
Japan remains a volleyball hotbed 54 years after the gold medal performance of the women’s national team on the sport’s Olympic debut at the 1964 Tokyo Games. A recent survey found 35 percent of people between 12 and 21 are looking forward to watching the sport more than any other in 2020.
Japan saw a period of sustained competitiveness in the 1970s and 1980s, including men’s gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics and another for the women in Montreal in 1976, and it is that history, combined with a new “mecca” arena in Tokyo and new world league, that the International Volleyball Federation hopes will allow it to cash in.
“From a historical point of view, I think it’s going to be amazing for the sport to be able to go back to its Olympic birthplace and reconnect with the certain energy that we believe is still over there considering the values of Japanese society — the way they respect and value their history and achievements,” Lima said.
“For both genders, volleyball is a sport that has created a lot of relevance because of those medals in ’64 and ’72. They are very symbolic as they represent the Japanese capacity to perform at the highest level and to be recognized as one of the top nations in the world.”
In total, Japan’s national teams have combined for three gold, three silver and three bronze medals at the games, making Japan the fourth most successful nation in Olympic history behind the Soviet Union, Brazil and the United States.
“To go back and reconnect with that history and those values is something very unique. Very few sports have such an opportunity,” said Lima.
But relying so heavily on the success of Japanese teams is a risky proposition given both the world No. 6 ranked women and No. 12 ranked men are outside medal chances.
“The big challenge we have as a sport is how to recreate that moment (from 1964) in terms of reconnecting with the past but also allowing for new generations to feel the energy of the sport and understand why volleyball can be so relevant,” Lima said.
One asset the FIVB has in Japan is the under-construction 15,000-seat New Ariake Arena on Tokyo Bay.
To be used for volleyball and other indoor sports as well as concerts — and with an area to be opened to the public once the games are over — some 1.4 million visitors are expected to visit the new facility annually.