The International Volleyball Hall of Fame inducts its 2022 class on Saturday. We are profiling all six inductees, including this feature on Pieter Joon. You can watch the ceremonies in Holyoke, Massachusetts, live at 7 p.m. Eastern. Get all the information at www.VolleyHall.org.
When you hear the phrase “a great of the sport” you probably picture a top scorer or the face of the media darling. But what if this person is a behind-the-scenes individual who literally got the entire world on the same page for the sport to actually happen. There has to be a word that is bigger than “great.”
But we certainly have an example: Pieter Joon of the Netherlands.
The Father of the Paravolley world and the man responsible for paving the way for the great success that the movement is having around the globe in all of its various disciplines.
Joon is set to become an inductee into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, a fitting recognition that the first Para inductee into the Hall is an administrator, much like the first-ever inductee, William Morgan, the inventor of the sport.
“There is an interesting parallel here,” said Steve Bishop, President of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame and Executive Director of the Florida Region of USA Volleyball. “The majority of the inductees into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame are athletes, so it’s important that these folks who are so instrumental in that particular discipline, who were pioneers in the sport and setting it up for the coaches and athletes to come, are the first inductees in their categories.”
Joon was born in Amsterdam and contracted polio when he was only 2 and a half years old. After many months in the hospital and several surgeries, he taught himself to walk at age 13 and joined Kennemer Invaliden Sportclub (KIS) when he was a teenager. There he was introduced to the traditional sport of volleyball in a coaching and officiating capacity.
He soon began playing sitting volleyball, which had expanded around the world by the mid-1970s. While Joon made his way up within the Netherlands National Volleyball Federation and the Dutch National Federation for Disableds, he noticed that the sport was not played under a unified ruleset around the world. This, understandably, caused many frustrations when different countries played each other during international tournaments, including an event in Bonn in May of 1976.
It was at this event that it became clear to Joon that these differences in rules and the game itself was the main reason that sitting volleyball was not invited to the Paralympics like standing volleyball was for the 1976 Toronto Olympic games.
When Arnhem, Netherlands, was announced as the 1980 Paralympic host, Joon organized a test sitting volleyball tournament in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1979, in what is now known as the first official sitting volleyball tournament. As part of a working group for International Relations, Joon has stated that he felt it was the right time to get Europe on the same page, convincing Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia and Belgium to leave their hard work over the years from 1944 to 1980 and to choose sitting volleyball in the future.
What did this mean for the sport?
“What Pieter did was monumental,” said John Kessel, former Director of Sport Development for USA Volleyball and a world-renowned volleyball expert, who still travels the globe spreading his love of the game. “He did groundbreaking work to allow people with disabilities to have the same advantages as others. As the Para world evolved, he was leading the charge.”
Joon’s own hard work paid off, as there were eight sitting volleyball teams in the 1980 Arnhem Paralympics, where Joon served as the technical coordinator. Joon was also instrumental in a unanimous decision by the countries to play the game with only a minimum handicap, stating that this decision allowed him to secure the character of the game.
After the success of the 1980 Paralympics, Joon founded and became the first president of the World Organization Volleyball for Disableds (WOVB) as part of the International Sports Organization for Disabled. His goal with the organization was to offer Sitting Volleyball as a sport in all world regions, without the impediment of a classification system, as was traditional in Paralympic sports offerings.
In this position and with the cooperation of the International Federation Sport for Disabled, Joon was able to set up development projects in 1986 in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America and Central America. Joon said about this project: “Accessibility for our sport was more important than a classification requirement. I want everyone with any kind of disability to play sports.”
The Paralympic movement has continued to expand around the world and in various sports. One of Kessel’s favorite memories was when, in 2004, a young USA Volleyball Women’s Sitting team went from a 0-30 finish at an event in May to a third-place finish at the Paralympics just 100 days later.
Who awarded the medals to the Team USA squad, coached by Kessel? Pieter Joon.
“We were so honored to have Pieter hang those medals,” said Kessel, remembering fondly. “To know what he had done for the sport, and have him recognize our accomplishment, was really special.”
WOVD has changed its name to World ParaVolley and continues to mentor individuals, teams and programs around the world as well as recognize the past leaders and promote the sport to the future. And it all started with passion and was spearheaded by one man.
“It’s important for people to recognize what Pieter did,” said Kessel. “The vast majority of people who play sitting volleyball are able-bodied, but it also allows anyone to play with any ability. Pieter has helped get sitting volleyball recognized around the world. Now we have the Invictus Games, the Warrior Games. None of that would have happened without the work that Pieter has done around the world for such a long time.”