Lausanne, 12 January 2005 - The largest-ever Volleyball World Championships start today in Sheffield, England, with men's matches between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and women's matches between England, Scotland, Spain, Albania and Serbia & Montenegro. A record 174 teams (97 men's and 77 women's) will participate in the FIVB World Championships 2006 - compared with 118 for the 2002 World Championships.
The FIVB Volleyball World Championships are held every four years and are the sport's premier competition. The next men's and women's World Championship finals will be held in Japan from 16 November to 3 December 2006, with 24 teams of each gender participating.
FIVB President Dr Rubén Acosta says: "The FIVB 2006 World Championships finals in Japan will be the biggest-ever festival of elite Volleyball, with 24 men's and 24 women's teams participating, in contrast with other major competitions which are limited to 12 teams each.
"While the FIVB Volleyball World Championships are seen as the ultimate title in international Volleyball, it is also a special competition due to the fact that every affiliated national federation has the chance to enter teams. This year a record 174 teams have entered, which is nearly a 50% increase on the 118 teams participating in the 2002 World Championships," he added.
All Continents will be represented in the 2006 World Championships finals in Japan, with the number of places allocated according to a formula based on their FIVB world rankings. First round matches start in January 2005 with all finalists to be decided by August 2005.
The reigning Men's World Champions Brazil and Women's World Champions Italy are automatically qualified for the finals, along with the hosts Japan. The 2002 World Championships finals were held in different countries - Argentina for the men and Germany for the women.
The largest entry for the 2006 FIVB Volleyball World Championships has come from Europe, where along with the reigning women's World Champions Italy, 35 men's teams and 27 women's have entered. There will be three rounds of matches in Europe to decide the 9 men's and 8 women's teams who will participate in the finals in Japan. The first match of the FIVB World Championships 2006 will be the first of the European 1st Round matches in Sheffield, England, from 12 - 16 January 2005.
Volleyball also has different strengths on other Continents:
In South America, Brazil is reigning men's World Champion and Olympic Champion; twelve other South American teams will be competing for the four places (two men's and two women's) in the finals in Japan
In Asia, China won the Women's Gold Medal in Athens beating one of Volleyball's super-power nations Russia in one of the greatest Volleyball matches of all time; as well as China and hosts Japan, 31 teams from Asia will be competing for five men's and four women's places in the finals
In Norceca, the USA is always among the favourites for medals and will be among the 39 teams competing for ten places in Japan (four men's and six women's)
In Africa, the standard of Volleyball is constantly improving and there will be some excellent matches between the 26 teams competing in two rounds for five places in Japan (two men's and three women's teams)
Dr . Rubén Acosta, President of the FIVB, comments: "National Federations on all Continents are keen to build on the success of Volleyball in Athens, where Volleyball was one of the best attended tournaments and the TV viewing figures were among the highest of all sports.
"Volleyball is one of the world's top five sports, with 35 million registered players and 218 national federations. Interest in the sport is growing at all levels: as an elite spectator sport and as a mass participation sport, as a professional sport and as an amateur sport played in clubs, schools and universities on all continents," he added.
The FIVB is the world governing body for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball. Under the leadership of its President Dr. Rubén Acosta, Volleyball has grown to become one of the world's top spectator and participation sports on all continents.
Volleyball is a fast and exciting non-contact sport demanding high levels of physical fitness, co-ordination and teamwork. Working with its affiliated National Federations, the FIVB is taking many initiatives to raise the profile of the sport worldwide and to create greater opportunities for national teams to compete internationally.