Will it be a ‘season to be jolly’ for the sport of Volleyball?

GB Libero Maria Bertelli talks funding and legacy as we await the fate of our sport:

It’s a huge week ahead for volleyball.  Today and tomorrow we will know the funding decisions from Sport England and UK Sport which will tell us how much money Volleyball England and the BVF will receive over the next 4 year cycle.

I remember when I never thought about sport and money in the same sentence, sport was something I played; something I did at school in PE but the reality is it’s now much more than that. Sport is run like a business – there’s a plan, the plan has to match the objectives of the bosses (SE & UKS), targets are given, reviewed and they have to be met. The sports are accountable.

I completely agree with this philosophy. The money given to sports comes from the public purse; sports should have to think strategically, plan, meet public objectives, review… Questions should be asked, sports should be challenged, sports should 100% be accountable.

In my eyes, on Tuesday, we will know whether the business of British Volleyball will continue and in what guise. The talk is that the funding given to sports will continue to be inline with UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ policy. Ultimately this means that the funding will be directed towards those sports that have the best chance of success; for success read ‘medals’.

It is this principle where my agreement / understanding begins to fade. It’s clear to everyone that this scenario is likely to result in no funding for volleyball and would be disastrous for our sport.

How do you measure potential for success? You would not measure potential for ‘success’ of Starbucks in the same way you would your local coffee shop; you would not measure potential for ‘success’ of Manchester United in the same way you would for Yeovil Town FC. You wouldn’t because; whilst they have similarities (same business area or same sport) they are totally different.

It is exactly the same with Olympic sports. How can you measure the potential for success of British Cycling or GB Hockey against the same criteria as British Volleyball? Cycling and hockey are established British Olympic sports, have had continued high level investment for a sustained period, have decades of Olympic experience and the governing body has years of elite sport governance experience.

British volleyball, like handball and to some extent basketball, is a ‘development’ sport; we are in our infancy; developing the sport, increasing the profile of the sport and have been competing at elite international level for less than 5 years.

Team sports…

It’s likely that team sports are going to suffer the most in the UKS funding announcements this week.

Let’s be honest, we don’t have a great Olympic history in team sports; the only summer Olympic team sport I really think of is Hockey; I remember it capturing my attention at the Barcelona Olympics. Hockey has had sustained investment over a long period of time and are reaping the rewards.

I think the challenge to deliver the ‘level of guaranteed success’ in a 4 year cycle that UK Sport are looking for is harder in team sports. Developing a successful team is different and possibly more complex than developing a successful individual athlete. Team sports are unique; obviously, finding talented athletes are at the heart of it (the same as individual sports) but inevitably you need a higher number of talented athletes. Developing a great team is far more than that, it’s finding the right group, the right characters, the right mix of individuals and the right leaders. Then, similar to all sports, offering the right environment for the athletes to flourish.

UK Sport’s investment principles of ‘no compromise’, which means funding will only be given to those sports that will achieve medals, does not match with the London 2012 goals of ‘inspire a generation’ or ‘creating a legacy’:

  • Development sports need time to progress to medal success – The progress volleyball has made over the last 5 years has been extraordinary – we have demonstrated that we can compete on a world level against countries that have been performing on this stage for over half a century, against countries where volleyball is their number one sport. UK Sport cannot expect medal success based on 5 years development - team sports like volleyball starting from a limited base require sustained investment and time to develop.
  • Team sports add massively to our culture - team sports add value to schools and society, they teach skills that are important…communication, working together, supporting, engaging with others, having fun to name just a few.
  • We need to offer role models in all sports; not just those that win medals.
  • We need to teach that success isn’t always about coming first, it’s about achieving, being the best.

Volleyball is everything that the Olympics is about – it’s a global sport, it’s a skillful, dynamic, competitive and attractive sport. From a legacy perspective, volleyball is a sport that can be played anywhere, by anyone. We wait for the news tomorrow, it’s a huge day. We, the GB Women could not have done anymore. I just hope it’s enough!

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