Team GB’s record at international level in the last two decades has been nothing short of poor and last year’s failed Olympic qualification campaign only adds to a trend that does not look likely to improve any time soon.
Volleyball for men and women was added to the Olympic Programme for the Tokyo Games in 1964. After failing to feature then and in subsequent Games renewals, the Great Britain Volleyball programme for both the men’s and women’s teams was resumed in 2006. This came after an agreement with the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) to permit the separate Home Nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to compete together for the London 2012 Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Paralympics.
In the build-up to 2012, Great Britain enter teams into the 2009 World Championships for the first time albeit with similar dismal results. Then came the decision a year later to remove their public funding which perhaps gave an indication of the confidence in the teams and the sport for potential medal success.
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However, receiving no financial backing would not hinder the chance for British women’s indoor volleyball team to become the first to compete at an Olympics. In fact Team GB funded their own way to the London Games albeit thanks to money-making schemes such as a sponsored bike ride from Sheffield to the capital and the “Adopt an Olympian” programme.
So whilst hopes were not overly high of any major success on home soil, by hosting the Games it at least afforded Great Britain with a chance to compete with those on the top table of international volleyball.
When it did arrive, 2012 marked something of a milestone as Team GB’s women did win an Olympic game for first time. It did not look likely after their opening game resulted in a straight sets defeat to Russia. However Team GB responded by beating African champions Algeria, a result which went some way to seeing them finish ninth out of the 12 nations competing. The same could not be said though for Great Britain’s men. They finished winless and joint-last. And predictably, shortly after, both teams were disbanded.
The current world rankings of the Home Nations also give a clear indication just where indoor volleyball in the UK stands globally and it does not make great reading. England’s men sit equal 136th alongside a clutch of nations including Wales and Ireland, plus such luminaries as Cape Verde, Gilbraltar, Greenland, Nepal, Singapore, Samoa, Malta and Malaysia. Northern Ireland and Scotland rank marginally better at 91st and 107th respectively.
In the women’s rankings, England’s women lie equal 119th along with several nations including Wales. Above them, Scotland are in 91st place, with Ireland and Northern Ireland both 101st.
With that in mind, it will come as no surprise to learn that none of the Home Nations qualified for the 2019 Confédération Européenne de Volleyball (CEV) Men’s European Volleyball Championships held across Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Slovenia last September which was won by Serbia. And the same applied when it came to last autumn’s 2019 CEV Women’s European Volleyball Championships staged in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey, which were also won by Serbia. As a result, being outside – and in fact, well adrift – of the top eight of European nations also meant no back-door route via entry into the 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournament.
It is interesting to note that whilst the indoor national teams – either individually or collectively – continue to flounder and show no signs of improvement on the international stage, there are indications it may start to be overshadowed by the beach game. In December 2018 UK Sport offered its backing to British beach volleyball by awarding a grant to the tune of £68,750 from its Aspiration Fund. This was ear-marked for a beach volleyball programme designed to help Great Britain qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and whilst also delivering a wider social action plan.
Buoyed perhaps by being one of the Phase 1 competition hosts, England’s men made it through to the second phase of the 2018-2020 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup in May last year. They were due to embark on Phase 2 last month in Antalya, competing in a group pool stage with hosts Turkey, Latvia, Italy, Russia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia. However the second Phase and subsequent Final – due to take place in Eindhoven, The Netherlands this month – have both been rescheduled for May and June 2021 respectively due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Whilst England’s men still have a chance to make Tokyo next year, the same cannot be said for their female counterparts as along with Scotland and Northern Ireland they failed to make it past Phase 1.
Still, there is a flickering hope that we may see some volleyball representation in Japan next summer from a UK perspective, although it still does not mask an otherwise dismal record on the global stage.
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