TEHRAN, June 26, 2015 - The US National Volleyball Team, visited Iran last week as the largest ever sports group from USA, to play Iran Team in the 2015 World League. The Champions of the World League in 2014, composed of 24 members, stunned by the overwhelming performance of Iran Volleyball Team in the court, were defeated 3-0 in both games, held last week in Azadi Sports Complex, with over 12 thousand enthusiastic spectators. During the trip, the US volleyball delegation, travelling to Iran for the first time, visited the Milad Tower, the sixth tallest telecommunication tower in the world. The team also had typical Iranian foods in a restaurant at the foothill of Darakeh, north of Tehran. The team described the experience as unique. In an exclusive interview with Hooman Bagheri, Mr. Doug Beal, USAV President, explained more about the visit to Iran:
Q. We are very happy to have you and your team here in Iran. I would like to know if you had any kind of imagination or background in your mind about Iran before you arrived, and if anything has changed after you faced the reality?
A. I think most of the people in the United States don't have a very good impression because it's taken from the news media and the political conflict between our countries and actually our experience here is quite different; our experience has been very positive; certainly we are not interested in getting involved in political situation, this is a sporting trip, and we have been treated exceptionally well, the conditions have been wonderful for our team, we have been treated very well by everybody we meet, the people we have been run into at the hotel, in the arena, up on the street have been very friendly, very eager to take photos with us, and engage in conversations, I think everybody in our delegation has got a much more positive impression. I hope it help a little bit the understanding between our two countries improve.
Q. How do you find the Iranian volleyball team; actually over the past years, they have developed remarkably, and according to the media and experts, they have been evaluated very well. Is this the same idea that you have about this team?
A. It's certainly one of the best teams in the world right now. They have a very good chance, I think, to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio, they are legitimately one of the top 8 , 9 or 10 teams in the world . I think it is very hard to rank all the teams, they change a lot , but we know that the team very well. I think the relationship between our volleyball federation and Iran volleyball federation has been very good. I think we are going to increase the exchanges in the future, we are very interested in that , I think President Davarzani is also interested, there is a lot value for both federations to continue that exchange, we have a lot of respect for the team of Iran, we have played them quite a bit recently, friendly matches, and obviously now in the world league, a major international tournament, they're very good. I think they will in all probability qualify for Rio Games because they really are the best team now in the Asian Confederation and I think they have good chance to compete for a medal in Rio, that's going to be a very difficult tournament in Rio. Certainly there is a big advantage for Iran team to play in Iran, great support from the spectators, very popular. In Rio, it will be the same for the Brazil Team; that's part of sport I think, and it's great for the growth of the sport and the excitement of the Olympic Competition will be very high because of the popularity of sport in Brazil like in Iran.
Q. You have been in managerial level at the volleyball federation of USA. According to you what is the most brilliant aspect of successful achievement for the Iranian side, and is it something that could have been achieved simply in a few years? Because some experts believe that it could not have happened but having a very good infrastructure in training, and a long term plan.
A. It is difficult for me to know the history and all of the details, but it seems to me that the sport of volleyball has been popular in Iran for some time, and the organization of the national team and the connection and the cooperation between the team and the federation improved a lot, probably when Velasco came as the coach. I think it was one of his strongest points. I think Julio is a very good coach, one of the best coaches in the world. But I think more than coaching he has a good idea and understanding of the structure and the organization that is needed for a team to be good. I think he did this also in Italy, and now I think he is doing this successfully in Argentina, so I imagine that he had a lot of influence, raising the level of the structure behind the team, and also may be some discipline and some organization to the team itself, to maximize the potential of the players, so the team does not get good just by accident. you have to put good people in good plan, and you have to work for some years. I think he probably did this good.
Q. A few experts believed that after Velasco, the good results would not repeat again. But one of the most important thing when something is built is how you maintain those achievements successfully. What do you think about this maintenance procedure, in post Velasco era?
A. I think it is harder to maintain it. It is harder because, while you are building up, nobody is expecting you to be good. Everybody is surprised, so you can sort of catch everybody a little bit unaware. Now, people are prepared that Iran is going to be a very good team. And so for the coach now, Kovac, he has a very difficult job, because all the teams that play Iran know they are good and so they take a different attitude. It's not necessarily the best way for teams, you should prepare hard for everybody, but it's normal I think for the human attitude I guess. So, I think he is a very good coach, he was a wonderful player in Serbia, and during the period he played, the Serbian team was made up of some really great players, but the team itself was really well-structured, well-organized, they got all the parts of the game very well, the systems they played, I think was just fantastic. It was really interesting to watch this team, because they were so big, so tall, so physical, but played good volleyball at really a good level, so he knows I think the structure, may be better than Velasco. I do not know his personality so much, I do not know his relationship with players and the federation, but I think he is a good person to follow up. So, people who think you can only win with one coach, or with a great player, they do not understand volleyball.
Q. Iran team did not have a very good start at the beginning of the world league, and there were lots of criticisms against the team and the coach both. But nobody could believe that Iran would beat USA 3-0 in two consecutive games. Tell us what do you think about this.
A. First of all, the world league is a difficult competition, it starts very quickly after the end of the club season, so every team starts a little bit with a different situation. Some teams have more time to prepare, some teams very little time, I do not know exactly the schedule of the Iran league, but I think may be only one player was outside, so the results in the first week or two usually aren't the same as later in the competition and US was fortunate to start in US, every team is going to play better at home. So, we had some success, but now we have to play in three very difficult places consecutively. So it is much more difficult for our team. Iran was just the reverse; immediately they had to go outside, they played two matches in USA, USA was playing at home, easier for us, but close matches, then Iran had to go to Poland, and then Russia. They played better, much closer in Poland and they won in Russia. So, they have grown in every week of the world league. So, I wasn't surprised at all how well they played. I think USA did not play very well, but mostly because Iran played so well. And certainly the crowd is interesting, and as I said, every team plays better at home.
Q. Do the spectators play a very crucial role in the results?
A. Well, just to play at home is easier because you are used to the situation, your daily schedule is easy, no jet lag , but this particular crowd, and the unique situation in Tehran, the size of the crowd, the noise level, particularly the noise level, I think is very different than every place else, even than Poland. Poland has a great support, very popular, spectators are really energetic, and enthusiastic but not like this. So, I think the noise level is the different thing. It's not so big problem to play in front of twelve, fourteen thousand people, it is just the noise level, constant noise. It becomes, unless you are used to it, it is unusual, so it is a big help for Iran.
Q. And how do you evaluate the performance of both teams?
A. Certainly we had some serving problem in the first game, but Iran played very well, really well, they were offensive and accurate; specially Marouf was much better than he played in USA. Somebody asked me earlier who is the best player in Iran? It is not a good question, all the players are good, they are all important, he is the most important player. It's a different team when he is not on the floor. The other setter is good, and really good, a good international player, but Marouf is special because the rhythm of the team, speed of the team, the confidence they have is at much higher level when Marouf is in. So, he is a good player.
Q. Finally, I would like to know, you have visited just a few places in Tehran, like Milad Tower, going to restaurant, having some typical Iranian food; was it something you were expecting to see?
A. I do not know that I had a very good picture of the city, actually the city, maybe it's bigger than I thought, the area is huge, certainly you hear about the traffic, and congestion, but we were driving today, there was not so much traffic, because it's Ramadan, so it wasn't so bad. I lived for a couple of years in Italy, so I know about the drivers, not always following the regulations, but you have so many motor bikes, so many pedestrians here, so it's a little bit unique. But the impression I have from the city is quite interesting and positive. It's a beautiful city and the geography is quite unique, with all the mountains surrounding the city, so you have big changes from the weather, from the summer to the winter, beautiful high mountains, I did not realize it quite so high, because I live in the mountains in Colorado, , but there is even higher, we have snow, sometimes all the year. In Tehran, parts of the city are beautiful, there are parks, a lot of green in the city, which I think is really important, so it's interesting going to Milad Tower. It was fantastic, because you can see a little bit of everything. Just a huge city; and the area is much bigger than I thought, but fascinating. It would be really great to come back and have a chance to spend may be five days or six days and see some of the mosques, and see some of the other cultural center, the museums, etc. And the food is fantastic, I think we know this type of food a little bit, because we have a lot of Persian restaurants all over the United States, specially in Los Angeles area, but, yeah, it's been great, because it's really been wonderful and positive for our team.