Brazil’s version of chinlone draws eyes in Rio
THE coolest sport in Brazil takes place outside the Olympic bubble. There are no cameras or anthems, certainly more mettle than medals. To find it, you need only stroll along Ipanema beach, where young boys fly kites and tourists and locals alike spread their towels. In the mornings, it’s usually quiet, the waves crashing the shoreline and vendors just starting to hawk everything from sunglasses to grilled meats to alcoholic drinks. It’s not too early for a caipirinha, apparently, and it’s not too early for Marcello Lepre, the top-ranked footvolley player in Rio de Janeiro.
The 26-year-old is an acrobatic whiz in a sport that requires as much athleticism, flexibility and quickness as most of the Olympic competitions being staged here this month. Footvolley is a hybrid sport, born on Copacabana beach more than 50 years ago when football players, either bored or enterprising, began juggling a soccer ball over a net. It’s part volleyball, part soccer and wholly intoxicating: Imagine volleyball in which players can use any body part except their arms and hands. Getting the ball over the net might be as simple as a header or as beautiful as a bicycle kick.
(Footvolley appears to be almost the exact same as Myanmar’s chinlone played over a net, with a football instead of the rattan ball and a volleyball net instead of the lower nets customary to chinlone, also known as caneball.)
Lepre has been playing since he was five years old, gravitating toward footvolley rather than soccer. He’s a professional in a sport that isn’t particularly lucrative, but the lithe young man is recognisable to any regular along Ipanema beach, where footvolley nets outnumber volleyball courts. Lepre arrives every morning for training and returns each afternoon to play all comers. Pick-up games could draw crowds, especially those inclined to lay down a bet or two.
“It’s a beautiful sport,” Lepre says. “It’s fun to play, and it’s beautiful to watch.”
Lepre, who has won two world championships, is hopeful the sport continues to grow. As it is now, he scores modest cash prizes from winning tournaments and makes ends meet by helping at his family’s ice cream parlour.
Renato Adnet is the founder of the Rio de Janeiro Footvolley Federation and has organised leagues and tournaments across the country. He commissioned a study that found more than 40,000 players in Brazil and said the sport has spread to 70 countries in some fashion. In Brazil, former soccer stars such as Romário and Ronaldinho are some of footvolley’s most famous adherents.
Once the Olympics packs up its rings and leaves town, the beach volleyball arena on Copacabana beach will be used for footvolley’s world championships. Organisers are hopeful they can fill 12,000 seats and ride the Olympic wave toward more international exposure. Twenty-three countries will take part, including teams from the United States, Japan and Australia, in two-person and four-person tournaments.
In Brazil, the sport can be found at all hours of the day on most of Rio’s beaches – as long as the rain isn’t falling and the wind is calm – and also in parks of land-locked cities such as Manaus and Brasilia. One recent morning on Ipanema, Jerson Fernandes, a 53-year-old former professional soccer player who now trains footvolley hopefuls, barked instructions at a young woman.
He booted a serve from the backline over the net and watched as the young player let the ball bounce off her chest.
“Higher!” he yelled in Portuguese. “Put the ball higher. How are you gonna do this? You’re too cold.”
While some of the footwork might translate to the beach, many soccer players still struggle adapting to the sport. Moving on sand is more difficult. Using the shoulders and chest to pop the ball to a teammate takes some learning. Keeping the ball skyward can be counter-intuitive.
“It is hard to compare,” Fernandes said. “Yes, you use your feet at times, but the rest is different. The posture and dynamics are totally different, the things you must do are totally different.”
– The Washington Post
Two men contest a kick at the net during a game of chinlone in a village outside Yangon.