Saturday 29 August 2020, 09:06

The history of beach soccer

  • FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to take place from 19 to 29 August 2021 in Moscow

  • Where did beach soccer start?

  • From Brazil to Europe via the USA

At some time or another, who has not attempted to have a kickabout on the beach, or at least watch other people do so? It is significantly different to playing on a level surface, which makes attempting to control a ball bobbling across the sand all the more unpredictable.

Yet even the most inexperienced player soon turns into Messi or Ronaldo in executing a bare-footed overhead kick, secure in the knowledge that the sand will soften their landing.

But where did beach soccer begin? Fans in the know might already be aware of terms such as Episkyros, Harpastum and Popo, which all describe what is often referred to as “mankind’s most important invention”: the ball. Or to be more exact, the football. People have been kicking things around since the beginning of time, perhaps using a stone, a bone or something similar even back in the Stone Age. The Chinese would fill animal skins with hair or feathers to use as a ball 3,000 years ago to play a game called Tsu chu, a precursor to modern football.

The origins of beach soccer do not go back anywhere near as far as that. According to various sources, the sport is believed to have been started by European sailors in the coastal regions of Brazil at the end of the 19th century when they played football on the sand during visits ashore. It was there that the first official beach soccer tournaments were held in 1957.

From the Copacabana via the USA to the rest of the world

It would be almost another 50 years before the first unofficial World Cup took place in 1995, representing a major milestone. Before that, in the early 1990s, Giancarlo Signorini spearheaded the founding of the Beach Soccer Company, which developed the concept for the events and also created the Pro Beach Soccer Series.

There followed a successful trial tournament at the Will Rogers Beach in Los Angeles, which left spectators enraptured. In 1993 an international competition was held in Miami, Florida, attracting 6,000 fans and also delighting American television audiences.

The beach soccer tide could no longer be held back. The Beach Soccer World Cup played its part and spread enthusiasm for the sport to Europe, where the European Pro Beach Soccer League was established. Two years later the game was being played in France, England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Malaysia and Argentina.

The Beach Soccer Worldwide (BSWW) federation, which was created from the Beach Soccer Company and Octagon Koch Tavares, is responsible for organising World Cups and European beach soccer tournaments. Recognised by FIFA, BSWW now stages events in more than 60 countries.

In 2005 FIFA finally incorporated beach soccer into the football family and held the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup™ on the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. A France team featuring Eric Cantona beat Portugal in the final, while title favourites and tournaments hosts Brazil were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The following year, 16 teams took part in the finals for the first time, with Brazil lifting their first trophy. A Seleção triumphed at the next three tournaments in a row, before Russia were crowned champions in Italy in 2011 and in Tahiti in 2013. Portugal are the current holders after tasting glory in both 2015 and in Paraguay in 2019, while Brazil are the record champions with five titles, the most recent of which arrived in 2017.

Following the unveiling of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Russia 2021 logo on Saturday, the countdown to the upcoming showpiece next year has begun. Who will emerge victorious in Moscow in August 2021? Host nation Russia? Record champions Brazil? Or a different team altogether? Only time will tell!