From the July 21 to August 3 Italy will be the theatre of dreams for the elite of women's volleyball when the 2003 World Grand Prix takes place in three gorgeous cities Matera, Gioia del Colle and Andria.
The stunningly attractive Matera and Gioia del Colle will play host to 12 of the best teams in women's volleyball in round robin play, before the World Grand Prix Finals are held in Andria on the striking Adriatic coast line.
This year is a very special year for the World Grand Prix with this 11th edition of the most important annual women's event being hosted for the first time outside of Asia.
With the number of teams also having increased from eight to 12, it is set to be a fantastic spectacle with the new competition format allowing for even more of the world's top teams to pit their skills against each other in top-flight competition and the new venue in Italy will allow the passion, excellence and fever of the World Grand Prix to unravel on European soil.
The FIVB President Rubén Acosta said the decision to move the World Grand Prix due to the SARS epidemic wasn't easy. "Given our great respect for our traditional hosts, it was a difficult decision," said President Acosta. "Our first duty was to act responsibly from the overall health perspective, but we also have a strong responsibility to the best women's teams in the world."
Now everyone involved in the tournament is looking forward to another volleyball extravaganza with this year's event due to be another demonstration of the quality of women's volleyball in this crucial pre-Olympic year.
World number one Russia will be out to defend its title against a number of pretenders. The gap that separates the best teams is very narrow indeed, as last year's World Grand Prix and the highly successful World Championship in Germany, where Russia finished third, clearly showed, so Russia, for one, will be aiming to return to the top of the winner's podium again.
One of the favorites to challenge Russia's supremacy are the hosts Italy. The first time world champions will of course be tough to beat with the advantage of playing at home but coming off the back of their fantastic World Championship triumph in Germany last year they will also be out to prove they are no one-hit wonders. The likes of the USA, China (runner's up for the past two years) and Brazil are all expected to be in the running for the $1 Million prize package while Germany, following their third place last year, should also not be taken lightly.
Cuba, USA, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan will play in Pool A while Thailand, Brazil, China, Canada, Korea and Russia face off in Pool B. Following the round robin pool play, the top three teams from each pool will join together to play off against each other in a final pool where the team with the most victories will walk away with the coveted title of World Grand Prix champion for 2003.
It's all set for a wonderful tournament, in a wonderful format, sit back and enjoy.