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'Balloon volleyball' inflates seniors' spirits

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-10 09:25
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Slower, lighter, and yet more fun. The game of gas volleyball is engaging China's senior fitness enthusiasts as a way to stay young, both physically and mentally.

Developed in the 1980s as a leisurely alternative to competitive volleyball, the gas version of the sport, aka balloon volleyball, remains a hit in China, as evidenced by the success of the recent Samaranch Cup tournament in Zigong city, Sichuan province.

Launched by the Samaranch Foundation, the tournament comprised 94 teams and 896 athletes, aged between 45 and 70, competing in a five-a-side, best-of-three format at Sichuan University of Science and Engineering, from April 27-30.

Playing with bigger and lighter balls made of soft materials, instead of the heavier leather balls, gas volleyball takes place on a smaller court and uses a lower net than those used in the Olympic sport from which it derives, making it fun and easy to play for all ages, both indoor and outdoor.

Although the action was slow, there was no denying the tournament in Zigong brought out the seniors' competitive instincts. Many of the participants played sports regularly when they were younger, so the event helped them tap into those memories, emotions and feelings once again.

"It was quite a tough competition to be honest. We enjoyed it very much not just as a physical challenge but as an opportunity to forget our age and be an athlete again," said Zhu Ling, a player and manager of the women's team representing the Samaranch Foundation.

A former deputy director of Sichuan provincial sports bureau, Zhu hailed the tournament as a platform for her fellow seniors to enjoy sports again and play a game that suits their physical and mental condition.

"The game has more rallies. The play goes slower, requires less strength but helps participants stretch their bodies and improve their body coordination. It's still a team sport where people need to communicate and it's almost injury free. I think it's a perfect game for the seniors," she said.

Zhu's team won the women's middle-age group, while the team representing Nanshan district of Shenzhen, Guangdong province won the corresponding men's group.

Teams from Shenzhen's Luohu district won both the men's and women's elderly group titles.

The event was initiated and organized by the Samaranch Foundation, a national non-public entity registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Beijing in 2012 in memory of late former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch. The tournament was supported by Zigong municipal government, Sichuan Sports Bureau and the Chinese Volleyball Association.

With mass fitness highlighted as a key task of the sports sector in China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), organizers and promoters of gas volleyball anticipate the game can tap the potential of fitness programs, especially for seniors.

The China Development Research Foundation predicts that people aged 65 and older will account for 15 percent of China's total population in the future-up from the current figure of 12 percent.

"Let's join hands to continue making efforts to promote the game of gas volleyball and help get more seniors active to live healthier lives," Yu Zaiqing, an IOC vice-president and board member of the Samaranch Foundation, said at the tournament's closing ceremony.

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