Follow the Sun

By Lori Okimura | Sept. 13, 2017, 11:51 p.m. (ET)

If you haven't already heard, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made it official that Paris will host 2024 and Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That may have been the worst kept secret in international sports, but it's the best news for USA Volleyball as we look ahead to hosting the Games in the United States of America. Congratulations are in order to the people behind the scenes in both cities, and we look forward to enjoying what each has to offer. Special thanks to all of our USA Volleyball Olympic and Paralympic alumni and staff who have been participating on advisory committees, attending city council meetings, speaking engagements and other activities that LA2028 has put forth to show the world how to "Follow the Sun."

Beach (Santa Monica), indoor (Anaheim) and sitting volleyball (Downtown Los Angeles) will take center stage at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics & Paralympics.

Gary Sato, a USA assistant for gold & bronze medal winning teams, (1988 Seoul, 1992 Barcelona, 2012 London) and his sister, Olympic bronze medalist, Liane Sato (1988 Seoul, 1992 Barcelona) participated in many of LA2028's cultural outreach activities like the Nissei Festival in Los Angeles.

Rio Paraympic gold medalist Bethany Zummo helped teach sitting volleyball on Olympic Day where LA2028 welcomed 500 kids from the LA84 Foundation youth sports programs.

Rio Olympian Lauren Fendrick & Olympic silver & bronze medalist April Ross met with FIVB President Dr Ary Graça & IOC President Thomas Bach at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna to discuss the popularity & success of beach volleyball in the Olympics.

USA Volleyball at the official logo unveiling of the Los Angeles bid committee logo in 2015.

Last night the U.S. Men wrapped up their stay in Nagoya with a tough five-set loss to a strong team from Iran. They regroup this morning and are on their way to the next stop of the FIVB Men's World Grand Champions Cup in Osaka where they hold steady in the second position and will face France, Brazil and Italy. At the press conference last night, the message was clear and consistent from our head coach, John Speraw, and from team captain David Smith, and top scorer Matt Anderson. "We didn't respond when we needed to."

FIVB Men's World Grand Champions Cup press conference, Sept 12, 2017.

USA star Matt Anderson speaks about the USA's lack of response to key substitutions by Iran in a 3-2 loss in round robin play.

Teams waiting to enter the court at Nagoya's Nippon Gaishi Arena

That's a first for a team that has always met adversity by stepping up and making the big plays happen. I'm not worried, I have faith in this team that as they regroup quickly, they will bring the same intensity and leadership to their upcoming matches that produced World League Championships and an Olympic bronze medal in the last Quad. John said from the start that this tournament was an opportunity to try different line ups and get a sense of possibilities. They are doing just that, and although last night's result wasn't what we all wanted, it was a strong motivator for everyone to step up for the matches ahead. The Road to Tokyo is long, and filled with many opportunities to develop our game plan. I have faith, and I am lucky that I get to watch this team as they explore all of their possibilities.

Women like me don't have that luxury in Iran.

For those who don't know, since a law established in 2012, women in Iran are not allowed to enter the stadiums and watch their teams play volleyball or soccer. Last year, that law was relaxed just slightly to include "select foreign women," but the majority of Iranian women are not allowed to purchase tickets or sit inside the stadiums with the exception of a small handful of those associated to dignitaries or famous politicians who are often seated in one small area. If Iranian women want to watch their team play, they have to travel outside Iran like the small group who came to Nagoya. A very dear friend of mine, Darya Safai, launched a campaign to "Let Iranian Women Enter their Stadiums" and has traveled the world to bring much needed attention to this situation. When I first heard her story several years ago, I couldn't imagine her being thrown out of stadiums, receiving death threats, or being denied the opportunity to buy a ticket to FIVB World League in Tehran. Then I joined her cause, and when I started receiving my own threats through social media, it became more real to me. The Rio Olympics was an opportunity for Darya to see her beloved Iran men's team play at the highest level. But she almost missed that chance when security was ordered to remove her from the Maracanazhino Stadium for displaying her banner and wearing the t-shirt promoting her campaign. This is unbelievable to me. It is unacceptable.

I have said this many times before. I am really proud to be part of a sport that has provided equal playing opportunity for men and women including equal number of events and prize money at least in beach volleyball. I am proud to serve as the Chairman of USA Volleyball's Board of Directors, the President of the NORCECA marketing commission, a member of the FIVB's beach volleyball commission and a member of World ParaVolley's judicial commission. I volunteer for all of those groups because I believe in supporting our sport, and my participation starting as a young girl of 8 started a lifelong passion. About 85 percent of USA Volleyball's playing membership is comprised of girls under the age of 18. As one of a small handful of female National Federation Presidents in the world, I am very proud of that statistic. I am also very proud that USA Volleyball provides opportunities for boys, adults, coaches, officials, event organizers and fans in beach, indoor and sitting volleyball. I love watching high school boys' volleyball programs emerging in new states. I love hearing about NCAA programs adding women's beach volleyball, and hope that one day we can offer that same sport for the men. I watch men's college volleyball matches as often as I can, and hope that more programs will be added in the future. And, I love hearing from our national team athletes when more and more opportunities become available in sitting volleyball development. Yet I am often concerned when I hear that other countries do not have the same opportunities. Myself and others are trying to change that. That work began long ago, and it will continue long after my term at USA Volleyball ends.

USA Volleyball has a robust pipeline of girls' high performance teams.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will be one of the most inclusive ever, and provide a great platform for that inclusion to continue now to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. I'm excited to be here in Japan where Olympic volleyball was born, to support our national volleyball teams, help create opportunities for our beach and sitting national teams, and to look forward with eager anticipation that maybe one day Darya and I can sit together inside the Azadi Stadium in Tehran to watch the USA and Iran.

USA Volleyball Chairman Lori Okimura and human rights activist Darya Safai at the 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in The Hague.

1984 Olympic silver medalists Debbie Green (left) and Paula Weishoff (right) supporting Darya Safai's campaign at the USC Galen Center for a match between USA-Iran in the 2015 FIVB World League.

Past USA Volleyball Foundation Chairman and Olympian Sarah Noriega Sulentor, Board Member Sue Mailhot of the Great Plains Region, USA Volleyball Director of National Team Events & Sponsorship Melissa Weymouth, and Board Chairman Lori Okimura showing support at the 2016 NORCECA Continental Olympic Qualifier in Lincoln, Nebraska