Ninão, the big hope as Brazil bid for Paralympic volleyball glory

Ninão, whose full name is Joelison Fernandes da Silva, is in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the 2022 World ParaVolley Sitting Volleyball World Championship, which will take place from 4-11 November 03 Nov 2022
A male sitting volleyball player raises his right arm to hit the ball above the net
Ninão, who made his debut in the sport in September 2022, is ready to make a big difference for Brazil at Paris 2024.
ⒸAle Cabral/CPB
By AMP Media | For IPC

Brazil’s tallest man is determined to scale the heights at Paris 2024 but, for Gigante Ninão, his fledgling Paralympic journey has already reaped precious rewards.

At 2.37m and with a giant wingspan, Ninão is being fast-tracked by his nation in their bid to break Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s dominance of men’s sitting volleyball at the highest level.

Ninão, whose full name is Joelison Fernandes da Silva, made his debut in the sport in September 2022 – just nine months after the lower part of his right leg had to be amputated because of a bacterial infection that had hampered him for four years.

A new inspiration in life

Coming from a humble background in the state of Paraíba in Brazil’s northeast, Ninão says that sitting volleyball has given his life new meaning.

“Taking up the sport has changed me so much, including my self-esteem and desire to win,” he said. “Now I can say that I have an objective in my life.

“My amputation was last December and sitting volleyball has helped me so much. Nowadays, sport is my main inspiration.”

Following a month of intensive training, Ninão made his debut for Clube Paulistano in the Sao Paulo state championship in a victorious double-header against São José and Barueri.

“It was a great experience, unique, and I played in two games with two victories,” he said.

Ninão calls sitting volleyball his inspiration and objective in life. @Ale Cabral/CPB

Transforming into an elite athlete

His mentor is Fernando Guimarães, coach of Clube Paulistano and Brazil, and Ninão has also been training with the national team.

“Ninão is a rough diamond who could make all the difference,” Guimarães told Brazilian media. “We were thinking of Los Angeles (2028) but Ninão will manage to play, and very well, in Paris.”

Already famous in Brazil, before his foray into sitting volleyball, for being the country's tallest man, Ninão’s inclusion in the Paralympic team would be a national sensation.

A special training programme involving physical and tactical work, nutrition and sports psychology is rapidly transforming the 37-year-old into an elite athlete. “I want to train more each time and become a really good player, as my target is Paris, for sure,” he said.

“I love it when my hand and the ball meet perfectly and I score a point. The most difficult part is moving around the court, because that’s something I was not used to.”

Ninão made his debut for Clube Paulistano in the Sao Paulo state championship this year. @Ale Cabral/CPB

A big mission at Paris 2024

Brazil, who came fourth in the last two Paralympic Games, are targeting the final in Paris. Their rivals for gold are likely to be Iran, who have won seven of the last nine Paralympic titles, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have won the other two in this period.

Iran will likely feature a player of even greater stature than Ninão: Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, who is 2.46m tall. But far from being intimidated, Brazil’s great new hope is savouring the idea of a showdown.

“Since taking up the sport I have been following Morteza and my objective is to play against him and win,” Ninão said.