An attractive sport with a bright future

DAVID GALLEGO is Managing Director of Beach Soccer Worldwide (BSWW) in Barcelona.

The concept of pro beach soccer originated back in 1992, with the founding partners of Beach Soccer Worldwide (BSWW). Beach soccer had already been played recreationally all over the world for many years and in many different formats, but it was not until ten years ago that the laws of the game were created and a pilot event staged in Los Angeles. The rules were perfected during that event and are still basically the same today.

The sport is spectacular. The sand adds another dimension to the sport, putting aerobic strength, teamwork and individual skills to the test. The ball is in the air most of the time, allowing for awesome bicycle kicks and flying saves by the goalkeepers. There are an average of sixty shots at goal and eleven goals per game in pro beach soccer, so it not surprising that it has been dubbed a "soccer highlight show" by the media.

BSWW has developed the game from a recreation on the beaches of Brazil to a worldwide series of pro beach soccer events, held in some of the world's most beautiful locations and featuring many a famous player bringing his skills and experience to the young professional beach soccer players.

In July 1993, the first professional beach soccer event was organized in Miami Beach, with the US, Brazil, Argentina and Italy taking part in this historic event. 1995 saw the first Pro Beach Soccer World Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, with eight participating teams and Brazil taking the title, the US ending second and England third.

There followed a number of important developments in 1996 and 1997 as BSWW formally introduced the Pro Beach Soccer Tour, a series of worldwide events key to the global promotion of the sport. These consisted of exhibition events as teams from Brazil, Italy and the US travelled around the world and played the host nation in a two-day event format. Altogether there were 82 games in 20 events staged in 14 countries.

Then in 1998 came the successful beginning of a new era for the game, with the launch of the European Pro Beach Soccer League (EPBSL). The EPBSL concept was successful in linking together the promoters from Europe, providing structure and strength. The league also provided what the media, sponsors and fans were looking for: more events, a summer-long season with consistent teams, extended television coverage and national representative teams with well-known players to follow and support. Thus only four years after its creation, all the effort that had been concentrated on promoting the sport through exhibition events with a global television package culminated in the creation of a European league and this in turn constituted the successful first step in building a legitimate worldwide competition structure for beach soccer.

The 1998 EPBSL involved seven European countries -- Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and Spain -- and nine events in total, with Germany winning the inaugural season on the final day. The teams featured an impressive number of world-class players, with names such as Eric Cantona, Michel, Claudio Gentile, Uli Stielike, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Emilio Butragueño, Andreas Brehme and many more. Prince Albert of Monaco became Honorary President of the EPBSL and Monte Carlo has since hosted a spectacular season finale gala event and awards ceremony.

The year 2001 started with a surprise, when Brazil for the first time failed to retain their title at the seventh world championship in Costa do Sauipe (Brazil). The Europeans surprised everyone, France and Portugal reaching the final and the Portuguese taking the title, Argentina defeating Brazil for third place.

The BSWW has its headquarters in Barcelona. It was created to unify all the major pro beach soccer tournaments in the world under one structure, as well as to solely represent the sport worldwide to major sponsors, media and FIFA. BSWW has met with FIFA several times to discuss the recognition of pro beach soccer by football's world governing body, and after a number of working meetings and careful study of the BSWW competitions, FIFA agreed to adopt the current BSWW rules of the game with some minor modifications. The final text is now due to be written and published by FIFA.

The discussions about the rules of the game have always taken into consideration the need to differ from normal football rules as little as possible. There has been a conscious effort to adhere to the true spirit of football and to make the beach game easily understandable by fans, while at the same time preserving the game's specific identity.

Since the beginning of the year 2000, all BSWW competitions have endorsed the FIFA Fair Play campaign. Beach Soccer is by nature friendly in spirit and the rules have even been developed so that any aggressive play, which is very rare, is heavily penalised. And another positive thing: because of the soft sandy playing surface and the fact that the game is played barefoot, the injury ratio is extremely low compared to other sports.