GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — More than gold medals were on the line in beach volleyball on the Gold Coast, with the sport playing for its Commonwealth Games future.
Volleyball Australia bankrolled the event to secure a spot on the program for the Gold Coast event, where it has been a popular and perfect fit for the games.
Volleyball Australia President Craig Carracher said his organization had funded the increased number of athletes attending the seven-day, 12-nation beach volleyball competition.
As far as he's aware, that's unprecedented. But Carracher is thinking of the future, already trying to keep the sport on the program when the games are staged in Birmingham, England in 2022.
"Our legacy is for our sport to be included in Birmingham and for the athletes to be able to start preparing now for those games," Carracher said.
In order to convince organizers in Birmingham, Carracher also offered his organization's services for 2022. He said Volleyball Australia had seconded its staff to the Gold Coast organizing committee — from sports management and technical delivery to the head of referees — "and all of us will provide whatever Birmingham needs to include our sport in their program."
The sport is making its games debut on the Gold Coast and like, its Pacific Ocean backdrop, has sparkled.
With sold-out stands, a disco-inspired soundtrack energizing the crowd and athletes with impressive vertical leaps and power serves, beach volleyball has been a hot-ticket item.
Every session has been sold out. Thursday's gold medal matches featured Australia vs. Canada.
Aussie pair Chris McHugh and Damien Schumann were playing Samuel Pedlow and Sam Schachter in the men's final, and Canada's world No. 1-ranked pair Sarah Pavan and Melissa Human-Paredes were playing Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho.
But while the sport was made for TV and for spectators, it is not an automatic inclusion for the next Games.
The Commonwealth Games Federation has 10 compulsory sports which must be included in the Games and another 20 optional sports from which the host city can select from to round out its program.
Beach volleyball is on the optional list and there is much talk it will be dumped in 2022 because of Birmingham's lack of beaches.
That didn't stop London Olympic organizers, who successfully held beach volleyball at Horse Guarde's Parade in 2012.
Gold Coast organizers also didn't have beach volleyball on their radar until the Commonwealth Games Federation added beach volleyball as an optional sport — after the rights for 2018 had been awarded. The sport also would have been an easy fit for Durban, South Africa, which was originally scheduled to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games but was unable to meet financial guarantees and lost the rights.
Carracher said Australia's Commonwealth Games association embraced the idea of the sport being included for 2018 and then it was up to volleyball's national governing body. If the sport could financially support its inclusion, beach volley would be in. And so here it is.
"It was hard to get into the games but for Birmingham to not include it (would be) mad," Carracher said. "The smaller nations have also responded — because they can invest in two athletes rather than a whole team which is why we're seeing the likes of Rawanda and Cyprus coming through."
It is also a sport on the rise among South Pacific nations, with Vanuatu being the breakout team in the competition with its women's pair playing off for bronze against Cyprus.
Birmingham organizers say no decisions have been finalized regarding the 2022 program.
"The CGF determines which sports are core and which are optional and Birmingham has selected its optional sports based on thorough due diligence, coming up with a package that is viable and best meets the city's vision for the Games," a spokesman said. "We cannot include all optional sports while complying with athlete numbers so some tough choices have to be made."
After the medals ceremony on the Gold Coast, the question of legacy will inevitably arise.
"Two days ago we started conversations about legacy which may be little more than the sand on the beachfront," Carracher said. "Even if that sand is golden, or silver, after tonight, this sand here will always be precious to us and we are thankful for our inclusion."
"But more precious will be our sport being there in four years."