Former Olympic volleyball champion and three-time World Championship winner Gilberto “Giba” Amauri de Godoy Filho from Brazil was named as the International Volleyball Federation’s (FIVB) first-ever Athletes’ Commission President.
In addition to Giba, the FIVB welcomed nine others to the Athletes’ Commission to strengthen the links between the athletes and the administration and make sure that the athletes’ interests stay at the heart of all FIVB decisions.
Latin American athletes always have the best nicknames. How did you come to be known as “Giba?”
Nicknames are jokes everywhere in Brazil. Everybody has several nicknames in Brazil. The one that stuck for me was Giba, Gilbert is just too long. You know, my whole name, it would be too difficult to see on the back of my playing shirt. In Brazil nicknames are all in fun, never done to be mean to others. It’s the Brazilian way.
You went from success on the volleyball court to a successful career.
The principle I learned in sports was the power of teamwork. Whether you’re the captain or the rookie, the CEO or the intern, you are all together and part of the one group. No one is above the others; it’s just that there is one captain who speaks on behalf of the team to the referee.
During your 18-year career, you picked up plenty of accolades on the court. Was it always a rocket-ship ride to the top echelon of the volleyball world?
When I was 11 years old people started telling me, “You can’t play volleyball because you’re so small, you’re too short.” I said, “Why? No, I want to play.”
I always had the desire to jump higher than the others. I kept working on this. I also had a quickness on the court and I was always thinking about the game at a different level.
When you have something difficult, I tell myself “forget to say no.” I do not know how to say “I cannot.” Instead, build on the belief in yourself. Take the “no” from the sentence and throw it away.
Did you have any peak experiences as a player?
My life in volleyball, it’s been like a dream. I say this all the time and it’s true because I always wanted the same things as when I started. I just wanted to be a part of a group that did great things together. In Brazil, from gold medals to World Championship titles, my generation won everything you could in volleyball.
We started together as a group in ’91. It’s not like we started and (snaps his fingers) there, we’re the champions. We had to find the best way to work hard together. We became a family. Every time one of us had a child born, we were there. We grew up in life together.
When one of us thought they were better than the group, everybody on the team said: “No, come on, we are all part of this team. We all contribute. We are all, together, part of something bigger. No one here is better than anyone else.” That’s how we won the gold medal.
Winning the Olympics is like a dream. I started with just a love for the game. The key was to always keep both feet on the ground all the time. I just tried to stay true to myself and true to the sport. It took some pretty hard training too.
Now you’re starting something new, for both you and the FIVB with the Athletes’ Commission.
Now that I’m no longer a player but still working with the sport I am always thinking about how to do all these small details better. As a player, I never had to think about the tickets, the passports, the hotels. The team took care of it all. All we had to do was get there and play a game. I want to make the game – and provide a level of support around the players – better than ever before.
We have many good people together on this Commission. We all have the energy to bring the game to an even higher level. To do this, we need to bring the players closer to the FIVB.
The FIVB Athletes’ Commission is made up of a very distinguished group of former players.
My title says President, but I am not a president. I am more of a captain – no, I have 10 captains on my team. Every Commission member has the same power. Everybody says what they are thinking. I am just the boss when it comes to communicating where we stand on decisions as a team.
We will find solutions to problems, so when a player says to me, “What do I do when my club does not pay me?” or when “my agent leaves me out” we can address this. We will put all of this, everything, as a proposal for the board meetings in May.
You retired two years before the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Was it a hard decision to quit competitive sport before the Games in Rio when you would have played in front of the Carioca crowds?
No, this was not such a hard decision because I have stayed connected to the sport. I’m on television, covering the sport and working at the Olympic Games. And I stay close to the players. All the time, I am on the court. I stay with them at training. I stay with them so much that I can’t really miss them too much.
I had a plan for how I would handle this transition away from the court. After London, I took two years to combine volleyball with school and work.
Retiring is hard when your career ends because of injuries and you didn’t want to stop, when you have to stop and it is outside your control. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have this experience. Players need to create something for themselves in their post-career. That’s why we are working hard with the IOC Athlete Career Programme.
You found success on the court, but did you ever think what you could do in beach volleyball?
I did sport the wrong way – I started with beach volleyball and then I went to indoor. Everyone else does it the opposite way! When I went to the national team, the coach said, “Giba, you’ve got to choose” – because I played both back then. He said, “No, if you don’t take one club, I don’t call you for the national team.” I said okay, and left beach volleyball and I went with indoor full time from then on. It was a good choice. It seems to have worked out okay.
You had a long career. If you had to distil all those years down, what did sport mean to you?
Sport taught me pretty much everything I know. Respect for others. My mother always told me, “You need to have respect for everyone.” Sport showed me that my mum’s words were true.
As President, you have a four-year term on the FIVB Athletes’ Commission. What do you want to do in this time?
During my career, I didn’t know anything about the FIVB. They did the events, they made the arenas and hung up the nets and put my nameplate up in the locker room, but none of the athletes knew about the FIVB. Now, we’re working closer. We need this to continue. We need to combine the powers of the athletes and the federation together to grow the sport.
What did it mean to you to be an Olympian?
It’s like actually getting to live a kid’s dream. It’s particularly emotional for me because my daughter was born in the middle of the Olympics in Athens. We won the gold medal there. And my son, he was born two days after the Games in Beijing where we won silver. Those two medals were so special. My daughter tells my son all the time, “I have gold, you have silver.”
Now you’re making me emotional. In London, that’s the only time I ever cried. It’s not because we lost the gold medal match, it’s because I knew this was the last time I’d be wearing my country’s colours for the national team. To go to just one Olympic Games and represent your country, you can’t put a price on it. You can’t compare it to anything.
Twenty years flashed in front of my mind there in London. And now, now I am finished. And now I am prepared for what comes next.
Watch the Athletes’ Commission members play board room volleyball here!