A day after announcing the expansion of the World League, the FIVB has announced the expansion of the Women’s Grand Prix to a 28 team tournament.
The event has been expanded to provide teams from all over the world an opportunity to get a bigger range of competition, allowing teams from all five zones to take part in the competition.
Much like the World League, the Grand Prix will feature three different groups of teams. The first group will contain the top 12 teams in the world, and just like World League, the top four teams from this pool will move on to the final round.
The next group contains eight teams, ranked from 15th to 22nd internationally. At the end of the preliminary round, the top teams will travel to Poland and join the hosts at the Final Four, with the winner moving on the Final Round the following weekend.
The final group will be in the same format as the World League, with eight teams competing over two weekends for three spots to join host Bulgaria in the Final Four. The winner of this group will not advance to the Grand Prix Final Round. Once again, although the FIVB has yet to confirm it, this last group is most likely replacing the old Qualification process.
The FIVB Grand Prix is considerably shorter than the World League, with the competition lasting a day short of a month, with the first weekend taking place on July 25th, and the finals scheduled for August 24th. The top two pools will play their preliminary round over the course of three weekends, playing three matches per weekend, with the second group starting a week earlier to make time for the Final Four. The Final Round will be played over the course of four days, from August 20th to August 24th, where the Grand Prix Champion will be crowned.
For those who haven’t done the math yet, this does mean that Canada will return to the FIVB Grand Prix for the first time since 2003, competing in the second group along with Peru, Argentina, The Netherlands, Poland, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Belgium.
Canada has been agonizingly close to qualifying for the Grand Prix for the past few years, and this is their opportunity to garner some important experience in the journey to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.
Their pool composition contains many teams seen in recent years; Peru, Argentina, The Netherlands, Cuba, and Puerto Rico have all been opponents over the course of the past few summers, and success has never come easily against any of them.
In recent years, the lack of meaningful competition for the Canadian team has resulted in a slew of mediocre results. The last time the program finished higher than seventh at the Pan American Cup was in 2005, and the fourth place finish at the NORCECA Championships was the first time Canada made it past the semi-finals since 2007.
Unfortunately, the way the Grand Prix is scheduled does not allow for every nation to host a series of matches. In fact, it has been quite a while since the U.S. has hosted, although this year we will see matches in Puerto Rico as well as Peru. Maybe in the next few years we will see the Grand Prix in Canada?