Beach volleyball at the Olympics features two 24-team tournaments, one for men and one for women. The teams are divided into groups for a preliminary round-robin phase, after which a bracket-style elimination round determines the medalists.
Matches are best of three sets.
A set (except the deciding third set) is won by the team that scores 21 points first, with a minimum lead of two points.
If there is a 20-20 tie, play is continued until a two-point lead is achieved (2220, 23-21, etc.)
The match is won by the team that wins two sets. If teams are tied with 1 set apiece, the deciding third set is played to 15 points, with a minimum lead of two points.
In both the men’s and women’s tournaments, 24 teams are divided into six groups of four teams for pool play based on a drawing of lots according to their seeding points acquired at Olympic Qualification tournaments. Each team plays the other teams in their group during pool play.
Rankings within pools are determined by the total number of match points earned, with two points awarded for a win, one point awarded for a loss, and zero points for a match forfeited (21-0, 21-0).
The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout round, along with the two best third-place teams (based firstly on match points, then by set ratio, rally point ratio and lastly by tournament seeding). The four remaining third-placed teams will play in “lucky loser” games (3rd-ranked vs. 6th, 4th vs. 5th), with the two winners of those games advancing to the round of 16.
In the case of a tie between teams in a pool for advancement to the knockout round, the following rules will apply:
Between two teams:
- The team with higher rally point ratio (# of total points scored/# of total points against) in the matches between all teams in the pool is ranked higher.
- If a tie still exists, then the winner of the head-to-head match is ranked higher.
Between three teams:
- Teams are ranked by the rally points ratios (# of total points scored/# of total points against) in the matches between the three tied teams.
- If a tie still exists, then the teams still tied are ranked by the rally points ratio between all teams in the pool.
- If a tie still exists, then the teams still tied are determined by the tournament seeding established at the general technical meeting (the highest seed of the tied teams is the top ranked team).
The 16 teams that advance compete in a single elimination/knockout-style tournament (#1 vs. #16, #2 vs. #15, etc). Teams are assigned seeds based on the results of pool play and a drawing of lots will be conducted to determine the matchups in the Round of 16 (winner of Pool A is Seed #1, winner of Pool B is Seed #2, lucky loser winners seeded #15 and 16, etc.) The winner of each match progresses and the loser is eliminated. The tournament continues in single elimination format until the semifinals, after which the two winning teams play for the gold medal and the two losing teams play in the bronze medal match.