The FIVB announced that it is expanding the FIVB World League by another 10 teams, bringing the total of teams competing in the annual tournament to 28.
The Intercontinental Round will begin on the weekend of May 23rd, and run through to July, with the last possible date for matches slatted for July 13th. The 2014 Edition has teams sorted into seven pools, each containing four teams, and placement is based on world ranking as well as the 2013 Edition.
The top pools, A and B, contain the top teams in the tournament. These teams will battle it out over the course of six weekends, with the top two teams from either pool moving on to the Final Round.
Pools C, D, and E, contain the next 12 teams, spread across three pools of four. Once again, each pool will compete over the course of six weeks, with the winner of each pool moving on to the Final Four. At this time, the FIVB has not announced how the fourth team will be decided.
The last two pools, F and G, are replacing the old qualification rounds the Canada went through in 2011. Instead, two pools of four entirely unassociated with the res of the tournament, will face off in two consecutive weekends, before battling it out in a final four the champion. It is unclear whether this team, or maybe even the top two, would move on to the main group the following year (but that’s our guess).
The Final Round will contain the host, the top two teams from pools A and B, and the winner of the Final Four. On July 16th-20th, the six teams will battle for the $1,000,000 cheque and the title of World League Champion.
Where Canadian fans might start getting a little upset is the fact that Canada will not be apart of the top two groups, even though they finished on top of Pool C last year, and went on to defeat Russia before finishing a best-ever fifth at the event.
Instead, Canada will be a part of Group C, with newcomers Belgium and Australia, as well as our favourite place to play away from home, Finland. Canada will have to finish top of Pool C to qualify for the Final Four, where they would have to win once again, to return to the FIVB Final Round.
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D||Pool E||Pool F||Pool G|
Part of the of the changes brought to last year’s World League were that the Pool C “Champion”, would not only attend the World League Final Round, but also move up to join the top teams the following year.
Is it all that surprising that the FIVB decided to not follow they’re own rules and omit Canada from the top pools? Not one bit.
Considering that early reports pitted Japan in the top group, along with the top teams, it could be worse. For those who don’t remember, Japan finished in absolute dead last in last year’s World League, and in reality, was only being considered apart of that group because of the serious capital Japan puts into the sport, and the serious interest the FIVB has in that market.
If anyone's looking for a reason why Canada was omitted from the top group, here's why.
“The last ranked team of Pool A & B after the Intercontinental Round could be relegated if the winner of the Final Four of Pools C, D and E can meet the promotion requirements set by the FIVB.”
These requirements are obviously not performance based; otherwise we would be with the top teams. These requirements mean that in the eyes of the FIVB, volleyball in Canada does not garner enough exposure with the National sports media, and isn’t relevant on the stage that the FIVB would like it to be.
Like everything else, this situation has two sides. On one hand, it’s glaringly obvious that they’re probably right. Considering it's a rare occasion that Canadian volleyball makes it in to any major newspaper, let alone on Sportsnet or TSN, this country has yet to give volleyball the attention that it garners in Europe and in Asia.
Considering none of last year's World League matches were even close to being sold out, it's no surprise the FIVB doesn't see the Great White North as a place they want to expand the game right away.
On the other hand, how is a country expected to increase the exposure of a sport when they are continuously playing teams of lesser stature? In saying this I mean no disrespect to Australia, Finland, and Belgium, but they’re star players aren’t exactly the big stars that teams like Brazil, Russia, and Poland boast.
Not only does this announcement frustrate our National team who have worked so hard in the past few years to get to this point, this also is sure to frustrate Volleyball Canada. It’s no secret that trying to promote home matches is difficult enough with the fickle Canadian volleyball community, but hosting teams like this is like trying to sell-out an NHL against Columbus Blue Jackets – it’s probably not going to sell out.
If there's any consolation, we are in the easiest of the groups. Belgium has never participated in the World League, although they were the European League Champions last summer, and followed that up with a 7th place finish at the European Championships.
Australia hasn't participated in the World League since 1999, and apart from qualifying for the 2012 Olympics where they finished 9th, haven't done much internationally. Their disappointing 5th at the Asian Volleyball Championships this fall is not the direction they were hoping to go before their first World League in 15 years.
Unfortunately, at this point, there's nothing we can about the 2014 Edition. What can be done is simple: if the World League comes to a Canadian city near you, then jump on the chance the go. Showing not only the FIVB, but the rest of the Canadian sports community that volleyball can play with the big boys.