By Stephen Eisenhammer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Beach volleyball will hold midnight matches on Copacabana beach during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, creating a party atmosphere and allowing easy access to the neighborhood's bars, the sport's director told Reuters.
Since becoming part of the Games in 1996, beach volleyball has increasingly won over audiences with its sexy, laid-back image.
At the 2012 Olympics in London loud-speakers pumped out music between points while an announcer rallied the crowd, many of whom were wearing fancy dress.
"We believe that after the match there will be a nice party atmosphere around Copacabana," Angelo Squeo, director for beach volleyball at the International Volleyball Federation, told Reuters in a phone interview this week from Switzerland.
"That is going to be very important for us, to bring the party style that beach volleyball is known for," he added.
The late slot is also part of a schedule aimed at maximizing television audiences. Asked whether athletes were concerned about playing so late, Squeo said they preferred it as the temperature would be cooler and the atmosphere better.
Squeo said he was delighted and proud that the sport was returning to a natural beach like Copacabana, where volleyball has its origins.
Due to its popularity in Brazil, which has won 11 Olympic medals in the sport, Squeo had hoped to build a larger venue, but the encroaching ocean meant 12,000 people was the highest capacity possible on Copacabana beach. In London, the venue held around 15,000 spectators.
Squeo dismissed fears that cleaner, competition-ready sand would have to be shipped on to Copacabana. Beach volleyball requires a light, clean sand to allow the game to be played at a high pace and reduce the chance of injury. In London the sand had to be brought in from a quarry outside the city.
"The sand of Copacabana is so iconic, has given so much to the sport, that we owe it to the Brazilian people to hold it on that sand," he said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)