In turn, FIVB has demanded that AVP comply with the rules stipulating that all Olympic candidates must have competed in at least one of the 18 worldwide events on FIVB's circuit or be shut out of the Atlanta Games. Further, USA Volleyball requires that AVP players participate in at least one of FIVB's two U.S.-situated events, the first of which was held three weeks ago. The AVP, whose pro circuit has developed into a $9 million-a-year industry since its birth in 1983, believes such requirements are little more than an attempt by FIVB and its president, Ruben Acosta, to cash in on the surging popularity of the beach game. In addition, the American pros are concerned that FIVB is pulling a power play by forcing them to choose between AVP and an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics. Acosta dismisses these complaints. "I laugh when they say it is a struggle for power," he sniffed last week. "They have no power."
In a recent letter to AVP president Jon Stevenson, John Carroll, the executive director of USA Volleyball, appeared to take a pro-FIVB stance: "If the top AVP players don't want to acknowledge that the Olympic movement worldwide is very complex and that all of their personal demands cannot be met, then I believe the game of beach volleyball is in jeopardy, not only as an Olympic sport, but as a worldwide attraction."
Regardless of what's most responsible for the current impasse—the arrogance of the international federation or the petulance of the sun-rinsed U.S. pros—the two sides are going to have to share the same small sandbox if beach volleyball is to flourish the way the Atlanta Games' telecaster, NBC, and sundry corporate sponsors hope it will. Unless the warring parties resolve their differences, a game that's still a curiosity in much of the world will be taken by the tide into trash-sport status.
In the Same Old Orbit
Planet Venus has arrived. On Monday, Reebok announced that it had signed Venus Williams, the 14-year-old tennis phenom who has played just one pro tournament, to a multimillion dollar, multiyear endorsement contract and that she will have a clothing line by next spring. Once again a teenager will be paid an unwarranted sum of money for wearing free clothes and playing a game. That's tennis.
Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, sources said it is comparable to the gold strike made by Jennifer Capriati when she turned pro at 14 in 1990 and is more lucrative than the deal Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, the No. 1 player in the world, has with Reebok. Moreover, the Reebok coup is just the beginning for Venus, whose price for an exhibition appearance is already in the range of Steffi Graf's—she has yet to sign with a racket company or a management firm.
Reebok has agreed to pay Williams her enormous yearly stipend despite the fact that she will play in just three tournaments in 1995. That suggests maybe somebody in tennis has finally learned something. Too often young players are pushed into overextending themselves to fulfill the schedule requirements of their lucrative deals. So far Venus's father, Richard, has kept his promise that Venus will be allowed to develop slowly.
Nonetheless she has done nothing to merit such riches except provide one tantalizing glimpse of raw talent. That happened in her pro debut last year when she reached the second round of the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, where she was defeated in three sets by Sánchez Vicario. But obviously Reebok is betting that Williams is going to be a huge star who will revitalize a stagnating game with an older, predominantly white fan base. Says Patricia Hambrick, vice president of women's footwear for Reebok, "She's the future."
Capriati was called the future too. After signing million dollar deals with Diadora and Prince, she was out of the game at 17, suffering from burnout and bitterness. "I think we all know now that signing these kids is a crapshoot," says Ian Hamilton of Nike, although admitting that his company, too, had coveted Venus and made a bid for her. We can only hope that Venus settles into a less turbulent orbit than many of her predecessors did.
Bullets, Not Bogeys
At a recent speech to the House of Commons justice committee, George Duffy, a lobbyist for the Responsible Firearms Owners of Alberta, fired off his concerns about a gun-control bill soon to be voted upon by the Canadian parliament. "Children are going to cease to participate in [the gun hobby] because it is going to get too regulatory," said Duffy. "Children are going to say, 'I'm going to play golf. I'm going to play football.' Is that what the government wants?"