2016-10-03 10:06:00 CEST
Top referee waves goodbye to the beach
After 30 years and over 8,000 matches, referee Elzir Martins De Oliveira blew on his whistle for the final time at the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto.
The 54-year-old Brazilian has called time on a career that has taken him all over the world; to oversee hundreds of thousands of digs, dives, serves and spikes at the three Olympic Games, 300 FIVB World Tour events and 12 World Championships.
After such an exciting and rewarding time beside the sand Elzir felt the time was right to step down from the referee’s podium after this home Olympic year and continue his work as a university professor.
“I’ve been an international referee for 20 years and a referee for 30, ever since the first season in 1996,” Elzir exclusively told swatchmajorseries.com. “This year I turned 54 and the FIVB standard is that international referees can act up to 55. I thought that retiring after the Olympics in Rio would be an ideal time to retire the whistle.”
There can’t be many people in the world that dream to become a beach volleyball – and Elzir is no different: the sport wasn’t at the top of his agenda growing up in his home town of Rio de Janeiro.
As a student he played the game but never professionally – and it was basketball that stole young Elzir’s heart.
“I was an athlete during high school and university,” he says. “The amazing thing is that my favorite sport was basketball. I played that for almost 15 years – but I never stopped practicing volleyball.”
But after finishing his studies in 1983, Elzir was soon thrown into the world of volleyball on a more regular basis – and that’s how a career in refereeing emerged.
“As soon as I graduated I was invited to work as an assistant coach on a volleyball team,” he says. “Three years later I was guided by my colleagues to do the referees’ training course in order to improve my knowledge.
“The result saw me finish in first place on the course and I went on to receive many incentives from the national federation – including the offer to continue as a volleyball referee.”
After snapping up the offer to work in the game, Elzir’s journey hopping from beach to beach around the world has taken him to all corners of the globe to officiate on thousands of matches involving hundreds of players.
“My first international match as first referee was in Rio – a match between Bernard/Renan and Smith/Stoklos,” says Elzir. “It was in the early 1990s and I was nervous but always used that nervous energy to make me focused and alert.
“I remember when we first started the international events in Rio, the wonderful matches involving fantastic players like Bernard, Isabel, Renen, Sinjin Smith, Stoklos and many more. I also remember the events like the first World Championships in Rio, the events in Austria and one Goodwill Games event held in Central Park in New York.”
Of all the memories that Elzir has the privilege of keeping, it is his appearance at his final few tournaments that will live long in the memory most.
“I’ve seen different generations of players and in each I’ve seen many players who stood out but it’s difficult to choose a single game among so many important ones,” he says. “But the men’s bronze medal match at the Olympics and the women’s final of the Swatch World Tour Finals in Toronto were emotional because I left the court on both occasions crying. I knew I was saying goodbye to the courts as a referee.”
Although he’s stepping down as a referee it won’t be his last involvement in the game. Far from it.
Elzir will continue to assist the FIVB, the South American confederation and the national Brazilian federation – but he knows that won’t replace the buzz of being directly beside a beach volleyball court.
“I’ll miss the excitement of running the big game and big events,” he says. “I always felt very comfortable in the big arenas and at the events. Those emotions made me work well, grow as a volleyball referee and a person in many aspects of my life.
“I learned from a lot of people during 20 years in the FIVB – press, sports administration, technology, organizers, promoters, fans, players, delegates, coaches, fellow officials – and they all taught me something important. And it’s this knowledge that has helped me grow as a referee but I learned a lot in the events too, and that has helped me in my work with students.”
His retirement comes at a time when the interest in beach volleyball could not be higher but Rio born and bred Elzir believes the sport can continue its soaring popularity over the coming years with the help of the Swatch Major Series.
“In my opinion beach volleyball is a big sport in the world,” he says. “If we look at the Olympics for example, beach volleyball grows with every Olympiad. The public interest is great, the atmosphere is engaging, lively and interactive.
“We have Swatch Major Series events in several countries and on various continents and I have no doubt that if we continue working with the same enthusiasm then beach volleyball will become a great sport around the world.”
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