Canberra, Australia, July 8, 2015 - There is an upbeat feeling around Australian volleyball at the moment. Last year, the federation very successfully staged the finals of FIVB Volleyball World League Intercontinental Group 2. The ladies team, affectionately known as the “Volleyroos”, can now look forward to the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 3 finals in Canberra on July 11-12.
The Group 3 Finals will be the first major ladies volleyball event in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney 15 years ago. “I told some of these girls today they were just three years old the last time Australia played at home,” said coach Mark Barnard. “It’s important for the exposure of our sport, the women’s side, for them to be seen playing in Australia.”
The players are also delighted. The experienced Shae Sloane, who took 2014 off to complete her studies, has returned to the national squad also for this tournament: “It’s such a long time ago that we played in front of our home crowd. It’s the possibility to say thank you to our families, fans and supporters.”
“I’m hoping this will be a turnaround for the women’s programme as we build towards 2020,” said coach Barnard, who believes his girls still have a long way to go, and is putting his faith in talented young players like Georgie Rowe. Two of the Volleyroos’ most experienced players, Tara West and Olivia Orchard, have retired this year.
Barnard does not expect a similar coup to the one pulled off by the Australian men, who beat top teams France and the Netherlands in the Group 2 finals on home soil last year, thus enabling them to take on star teams like world number ones Brazil in Group 1 this year. The gap with the top teams is too great, as was highlighted on the opening weekend of the preliminary round, which produced big defeats against three-time Olympic champions Cuba, Kazakhstan and Algeria.
However, the Australian women have shown in recent months that they are on the up. Last year the team made its debut in the FIVB World Grand Prix and climbed from 100th to 46th in the rankings. At the Asian Championships, at the start of the season, they finished ninth. A remarkable performance, given the players are not professionals. “The sport is a hobby alongside jobs or studies,” said Sloane.
The Australian Volleyball Federation is doing everything in its power to make the sport professional. In Gina Rinehart and her company Hancock Prospecting, they have found a sponsor which supports the sport. Australian volleyball president Craig Carracher revealed that the entire sponsorship for the federation has risen from 272,000 Australian dollars in 2013 to about two million dollars this year. “Our objective is to get that government funding down to about 33 per cent of our total revenue base," says Mr Carracher. “We think it can get there and volleyball’s status as a global sport will be attractive.”
Carracher is trying to stage volleyball in Australia as an event with well-known artists as part of the pre-match programme – and with great success. This was done at the home matches in the FIVB World League against record winners Brazil on the last weekend in June.
“Last year we had James Blunt perform ahead of World League games in Canberra, and Bonnie Anderson in Sydney, which was a thrill for the crowds, the players, and, dare I say it, the officials,” Carracher said. “It’s all part of Volleyball Australia making volleyball a major event experience in this country.” It goes without saying that the men’s team is also supporting the ladies’ big World Grand Prix event, to ensure the general upwards trend in Australian volleyball continues.