Last word….GB Libero Bertelli

I will never forget 12.37am on Tuesday 31st July, the moment Grace Carter got the block that won GB Volleyball’s first ever indoor Olympic match. What followed the next day was a great first set performance against the Italian team, a 9th place finish at an Olympic Games, a 100th cap for my country, a new world ranking of 21 for GB and our best ever results in a European Championships Qualifying competition.

None of the above can ever be taken away or can ever be disputed. What is clear though is that 2012, and the Olympics has well and truly gone. We should never forget, but in sport, you have to look forward or you will be left behind.

In my eyes, British Volleyball didn’t look forward to post 2012 - didn’t have plans in place  if UK Sport funding was provided (and we knew that would be a big IF, based on criteria of medal potential at Rio 2016) and; the more likely situation,  to have plans in place to build on the last 5 years, without UK Sport funding. Where were those ‘what if’ strategies - without them, the result; the worst of my sporting life is; that there is no British programmes (senior indoor, sitting or beach mens) going forward.

I can only speak for the women, we agreed a massive goal of our squad was to create a future for volleyball in this country and I can say hand on heart I don’t think we as players and staff could have done anymore. We delivered our best performances on the court when it mattered, we had our own ‘legacy’ goals and did our own specific programmes, we supported the home nations at events and initiatives and we were only ever positive about our sport (despite some very challenging times).

To be in the situation now whereby there will be no competing GB teams, as dramatic as this may sound, with 100% honesty, is soul destroying. Add to this, firstly; the debacle surrounding entry into the 2014 World Championship Qualifiers (Scotland & Northern Ireland home nations entered but due to being informed last minute England were unable to enter) a situation which should have been managed & ticked off months before. Secondly; the news that Volleyball England’s 2013-2017 strategy identifies that senior national teams will not be supported in the short to medium term.

I am sat here asking myself what the flipping heck has happened.  In international volleyball terms indoor and sitting disciplines have never been in the position we are now in terms of knowledge, expertise, experience, ability to compete and world rankings. We have never had our sport highlighted in such a way as we have over the last 2-3 years and yet, as an indoor athlete you no longer have the opportunity to represent your country at senior level. I can’t find words that do justice to how I feel about this.

Now, don’t for one moment misunderstand me…we have to increase the talent pool in this country and we need the appropriate structures in place to do that. I also know that there have been some massive decisions in my life relating to volleyball, the majority between the ages of 16 and 23 - at the time, I didn’t know it but they were all driven by my desire and goal to be an international volleyball player. During that time, I was inspired by seeing and playing alongside England players, I was driven to work harder and improve by the opportunity to be like them, to represent my country at senior level. I cannot think of another sport that does not have the opportunity to progress to senior level representation. For talented players, like I once was, who are they going to see? What is their goal now?

For the current members of the indoor GB squads (and those who were aspiring to move into the senior squads) the reality is they can no longer play at the highest possible international level. Personally, it’s an emotional subject; I’m an ‘all-in’ person and I believed we could achieve this transformation of our sport. My sole purpose of being a volleyball player was to  be the best I could be when I represented my country. I believe every athlete should have that opportunity, and all the amazing experiences and personal development it brings.

I think there a lots of reasons we are in this situation, lots of questions that I and you might have but when thinking about the future of our sport:

  • what is the BVF going to do now?
  • on what research, knowledge and evidence of success is the VE strategy to have no visible senior international teams based? There is so much evidence on the influence of role models, importance of seniors to aspire to etc
  • is indoor volleyball now purely a participation sport? is there actually a desire for senior performance teams?
  • when we didn’t have funding prior to 2012, GB men and home nation senior indoor teams were active and visible; why should we accept that without funding there are no solutions? Handball who are unfunded and receive less home nation funding than volleyball are currently playing Euro Qualifiers.
  • how do we/you keep talented youngsters in our sport, competing against other sports that can give them the opportunities beyond junior level - to represent England or GB, to travel, to experience, to grow as people.
  • does the British/home nation volleyball world care whether we have senior national teams? If it’s important, what can home nation members do?

I don’t have the answers. I have communicated with the powers that be, suggested that we cannot lose all the work that has been done, that we have to fight and try to find solutions. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity, and absolutely love, playing for my country. Never doing that again wasn’t something I had considered but the events of the last few months have led me to eventually accept that is the case. I will continue to work at giving back to our fantastic sport but on this subject this has to be the last word from me. Time to move on.

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