UK Volleyball – a new beginning of a beautiful journey

Published On October 29, 2017 | By Sportsbuff | Features, HOME

Every time when asked, which sports I enjoy following the most, I list football, ski jumping and volleyball. While the first one is considered as the apple of most Brits’ eye, the next one gets usually associated with Eddie “The Eagle”. Volleyball, a highly recognised sport worldwide, is in the UK almost non-existing.

The women’s Volleyball semi-final between China and Cuba in Beijing 2008, attracted a bigger TV audience than the men’s 100 metres final, starring Usain Bolt. In Poland, my home-country, volleyball stadiums pack out each time with regularly organised international tournaments. In the UK people do not show much interest in the sport.

GB volleyball programme was re-established in 2006 after London was voted as a host of 2012 Olympics. Their women team won an Olympic game for the first time, beating Algeria and finishing ninth of 12. However, volleyball enthusiasts faced a great disappointment after their national team folded just months after London 2012 with no future funding and prospects. ‘Inspire a generation’ has become just a slogan for many young players, who often did not see many prospects in their own country.

A Glimmer Of Light At The End Of The Tunnel

There are people, who are still working behind the scenes to make something happen. Teams such as IBB Polonia London implement innovative ways of attracting more fans and sponsors to the sport. They invited Krzysztof “Igla” Ignaczak, a former Polish volleyball player, to join the team for the last couple of games of 2016/17 season.

“I decided to join the team because I watched them play in the CEV Challenge Cup and I saw how much heart and soul they put into their games. When I was approached by the club and asked for help, I said why not? There was no reason to hesitate if there was a way for me to help,” said Ignaczak during the Super 8 play-off semi-finals against Wessex VC.

Popular “Igla” (translates to “Needle”) knows what he is talking about. He played for the Polish national team for over 15 years and won both the European and the World Championships. He decided to come out of his retirement to support the team to achieve their sporting and marketing goals.

“I think they have a great team. This is just the beginning of their journey, because we can’t call them professionals yet. Coming to London felt like I went back in time to when I was starting my volleyball career. I dream that they start making huge steps towards the future.

“To do something professionally means to do it full-time and being paid for it. I absolutely admire the guys for finding time and energy to spend those two hours a day to train and play matches after spending a long day at their regular jobs.”

Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Things

As volleyball is not the main source of income for the players in England, they split their life between sport and work commitments, which they admit is not easy to achieve. Some take on manual labour, some work as drivers in car rental companies or in a private sector.

“It’s hard for volleyball. I’m coming from Romania as a professional and I thought I’ll find here some professional team but I’m wrong. But I play with pleasure. I played for 23 years like a professional and for this reason I’m here in London and keeping in good shape because I love volleyball,” said Marius Ciortea, the former IBB Polonia team captain.

Last season Polonia achieved all their main goals. They qualified to the quarter-finals of the CEV Challenge Cup, surprisingly beating the Hungarian champions Fino Kaposvar 3:1 and the Dutch champions Drasma Dynamo 3:2. They also defended both their English Cup and English Championship titles. Sheffield Hallam VC was not shy of the result, getting into the finals of both of the national competitions.

“For us this season was really, really good. From where we started to where we finished, it’s been a big improvement. We weren’t quite good enough today but we progressed along the way and we’re really happy with our performance,” said Matt Howe, Sheffield’s team captain, after the Super 8 final against Polonia.

“Volleyball is something that I do now alongside my job but I used to be professional and played in Europe. Timewise it’s very difficult to combine my job with sport. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, go to the gym, then I go to work for 10 hours and then I go to training at night. Where do I find the energy? Coffee!”

Even though the players of both teams have a lot of potential, volleyball still does not attract as many fans as other team sports such as, football, cricket or rugby. Bigger popularity would create better sponsorship deals and as a result more funding for development to build a professional volleyball league.

“We have a lot of other sports that are really popular and also the level of the play in this country isn’t enough to bring fans. What we’ve seen today is helping and what Polonia are doing is also helping. The more good players we get here, the better it is for everyone,” said Matt Howe when asked about playing against the World Champion Krzysztof Ignaczak.

Ignaczak thinks there is at least one solution to the problem: „Every Polish person should start bringing their English friends to watch the games because people in the UK don’t know about this sport. We’d like to attract more Polish and English entrepreneurs because this sport isn’t as expensive as football. It’s possible to build a strong team for much less money. If London wants to become the sports capital of Europe, why not try with volleyball as well?”

The Future Looks Optimistic

Polonia’s head coach, Piotr Graban, extended his contract for another year despite receiving other offers from his home-country, Poland. He has got a clear vision in his mind of popularising volleyball in the UK and creating a range of strong professional teams that could compete across Europe. This includes organising a range of volleyball courses for other coaches and PE teachers to improve the level of sport in the UK.

Recently, the representatives of the International Volleyball Federation and the European Volleyball Confederation met with senior officials from Volleyball England, UK Sport, and Sport England to discuss methods of increasing the popularity of volleyball in the England. IBB Polonia itself has got a lot of ambitious plans including broadcasting their games, which happened for the first time on Saturday 14th October during the match with Sheffield Hallam, this season’s first home game for Polonia.

To find how YOU can help to develop this interesting project, visit the link.

Sources: own interviews, factual data from BBC, The Guardian, Volleyball EnglandIBB Polonia websites.

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