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Sun, surf... and enter beach volleyball
|Private and official institutions work hard to develop beach volley in Turkey. Epirden already organized dozens of tournaments and is looking for a company that has faith in beach volley’s future “with all its heart.” For its part, the Turkish Voleyball Federation is signing deals to make Turkey the center of beach volley training as well as working to bring beach volley coaches from Cologne Sports Academy in Germany|
Turkey's beaches are renowned not only for their beauty and quality, but also for the long period of warm weather allowing for an eight-month long holiday season.
However, one particular issue has been overlooked: Turkey's great potential in beach volleyball has been unexploited up to this day. "Turkey is surrounded by seas on three sides and we walk on its beaches like partridges unaware of its great opportunities for sports," said Hasan Uğur Epirden, honorary president of Epirden Beach Volley, a nonprofit society, promoting beach volleyball in Turkey.
"I am trying to get this sport on its feet in Turkey with many others, but this is far from enough," he said. Epirden Beach Volley has organized 105 tournaments since its foundation in 1992, the latest of which ended this week at Istanbul's Kumburgaz beach. The tournament included teams from Norway, the U.K. and Romania.
The Norwegian team (Elin-Hanne) is also the Norwegian junior national team and has won a European championship. Elin and Hanne defeated Özgün and Özlem, the Turkish team, in the finals.
It is ironic that a country where beach volleyball in the open air is only possible for one month in the year has produced one of the best teams in Europe.
"In Turkey we don't have many beach volleyball professionals. We play volleyball on the court," said Özgün, who has been playing the sport for 13 years. "The problem is financial. I would definitely stick with beach volleyball if I could make a living from it." The irony is not missed by Elin and Hanne. "Turkey definitely should be the country that champions come from. In our country the weather changes all the time, we usually get one month to practice. Here it is always hot," said Elin. They plan to stay in Turkey for one more week because the country is more ideal than Norway to prepare for another tournament in the Netherlands.
Turkey becomes Beach Volleyball's heart and soul
A big step was taken last month, when the Turkish Volleyball Federation (TVF) persuaded European Volleyball Confederation (CEV) president André Meyer to make Alanya, a famous tourist spot in southern Turkey, the center of beach volleyball in Europe. The deal signed in July stipulates that the CEV guarantees exclusivity of the training center only for the TVF. "We signed an agreement for 30 years with Mr. Meyer to build the only beach volleyball training center for Europe in Alanya. This means it will be the only center granting professional licenses in Europe," said Erkal Taş, TVF Beach Volleyball secretary. They managed to eliminate their French and Italian rivals who were equally enthusiastic about hosting the center. "It took us two-and-a-half years of extensive lobbying to seal the deal. However, the quality of Turkey's beaches, hotels and their relatively lower costs were invaluable assets in CEV's evaluation process," he said.
The center will make considerable contribution to Turkey's tourism trade as well. "Eurosport will focus on Turkey as more international competitions will integrate Turkey into their schedules. In addition, the tourism potential is huge. There are tourists coming to Alanya in groups of 60 with their trainer just to learn to play beach volleyball," said Taş.
Beach volley gains in popularity
Turkey has thousands of beaches waiting to make beach volleyball the most important sport in Turkey, said Epirden. He said that beach volleyball will overtake football's popularity in a few years time. "Mark my words, there will be 300,000 licensed beach volley players in five years." If this trend continues, even that number may be surpassed. "It is difficult to give the exact numbers of licensed players, as this is an individual sport. Licenses can be obtained from tournaments organized by private companies, but the number of licensees from TVF numbers 6,000-7,000 at this time," he said.
"If we can get more sponsors, beach volleyball will attain a growth rate of 70 percent every year," said Epirden. Like many individual sports, beach volleyball needs private sponsors as well. Multinational companies grasped the importance of the event long ago. "Nestea sponsorship at the CEV championship reached $4.5 million," Taş said.
Epirden too keeps his spirits up. "But they are taking beach volleyball more seriously every year, and I am confidant that Turkey can train the best players in the world," he said.