• image

CHENNAI: During the Rio Olympics, a picture tweeted out by multiple gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles went viral. It showed the 4’8 Biles standing next to another, rather tall, member of the US Olympic contingent and was captioned ‘size difference in Olympians doesn’t matter’.

The man she was posing next to was also a medallist in that edition of the Games. But the men’s volleyball bronze winner in Rio is far from David Lee’s highest point in the game. That would probably be the gold he won eight years prior in Beijing, being named as the best blocker at the 2014 FIVB World League or leading USA to victory in the 2016 FIVB World Cup.

In a few months, volley fans in India will be able to see Lee up close after the 36-year-old blocker signed up to play in the inaugural edition of the Pro Volleyball League, which will commence in February next year. On Friday, Lee lined up alongside another Olympic medallist in PV Sindhu and some of the best spikers in the country to promote the league. “This is my first time in India,” he said. “To me, it is an amazing prospect. There is a lot of good talent in the country. The market in India is nascent. You have 1.4 billion people, so there is a lot of room for this league to grow. After coming here and seeing the kind of people that are involved in this league, I think it can be a great success. It does take a lot of time and energy to build something like this but there will be light at the end of the tunnel.”

The organisers of the league would do well to pick Lee’s brains on how to structure and promote the tournament — there are few top leagues in the world that he hasn’t played in, in his 15-year professional career. Turkey, Italy, Russia, China, Greece, Argentina...you name it, chances are he’s probably played there. Based on what he’s seen in these countries, Lee believes this league can do a lot in dragging Indian volleyball up to world standards. “There is a direct correlation between the quality of the domestic competition and international success of the national team,” Lee says.

“If you look at Iran and China, two very successful teams at the international level, they also have a strong domestic structure. And the leagues in Italy and Russia, they have been educating players on how to approach the game for a long time.”

Lee says that a number of international players have already talked to him about playing in the league. But can Indian spikers really benefit from playing alongside some of the top international names for a couple of months a year? “Two months is too short a time,” he agrees. “But players here will have the opportunity to take tips from some of the top players in the world on how to train and how to approach the game. So yes, it will have its benefits.”