Preview 2014 - Excitement stretching as far as Africa: the stage is set for a record-breaking World Grand Prix
Lausanne, Switzerland, January 3, 2014 – The FIVB World Grand Prix is smashing all the records in 2014, with the thrill of world-class volleyball stretching as far as Africa. “It means we will play more matches with the best teams in the world, which translates to more exposure for our players,” commented Evans Wasike, secretary general of the Kenya Volleyball Federation. Rather than 20 teams as in 2013, the 22nd staging of the most prestigious annual volleyball competition for ladies in the world will feature 28 teams from all corners of the globe, as the national squads begin their preparations for the highlight of the season: the World Championship.
As well as Kenya, who one year after Algeria’s debut are set to become only the second African team in the history of the competition, Belgium, Croatia, Mexico and Australia will also be making their first appearances in the FIVB World Grand Prix. They take the total number of countries represented in the annual meeting of the world’s top national teams to 30 since it was introduced in 1993. Making their comeback in 2014 are Canada (whose most recent appearance came in 2003), Peru (2011) and Korea (2012). They are joined by the same 20 teams who produced some dramatic matches in last year’s competition. It goes without saying that all six former winners are represented again this year: record winners and Olympic champions Brazil (9 titles), USA (5), Russia (3), Cuba (2), the Netherlands (1) and China (1).
“This new direction is all about volleyball growing and providing opportunities for federations to play,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°, explaining the strategy behind the expansion. Despite the record number of teams – the favourites remain the same. Olympic champions Brazil are still the team to beat, having claimed a hat-trick of big titles in 2013: World Grand Prix, World Grand Champions Cup and South American Championship. Despite triumphing with a flawless record of five wins and 15:0 sets in the final round of the Grand Prix, the ball wizards from Brazil do not face an easy task.
Successful coach Ze Roberto remains cautious: “All the other teams will improve in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, so we don’t want to be left behind. In terms of speed and defence, we want to catch up with other teams.” And who will represent the biggest challenge? One of the favourites to make life difficult for the Brazilians are 2013 Grand Prix runners-up China. The team has made remarkable progress in a short time under the guidance of the returning “Jenny” Lang Ping, who won silver as the US coach at her home Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Then there are the Japanese, who were still in with a chance of winning the Grand Champions Cup until the all-important duel against Brazil (0:3). Captain Saori Kimura believes that success came as the result of a new strategy, which should bear more fruit in 2014.
The mastermind behind Brazil’s success, Ze Roberto, is well aware of the threat: “They grew up more than other teams in those four years. Of course, they need to improve their block, but before 2009 Japan were always sixth or seventh in the world; now they are on the podium every time. They improved and I think they are close to us.” It goes without saying that Olympic silver medallists the USA, who claimed a hat-trick of World Grand Prix titles between 2010 and 2012, are also among the favourites. The Americans have shown an improvement in form of late under legendary coach Karch Kiraly: proof of this came in second place at the Grand Champions Cup. Russia, who won the Grand Prix in 2006 and 2010, are looking for a big year in 2014, as they aim to defend their World Championship title. Also in with a shout are World Championship hosts Italy, who produced the highest-scoring player of the 2013 World Grand Prix final round, in the form of Valentina Diouf, who racked up 110 points.
Whatever happens, excitement is guaranteed at the 22 tournaments around the world – from Italy and Peru to Hong Kong and Macau – from the first round on July 25 to the final match day on August 24.
The preliminary round will see the twelve highest-seeded teams – defending champions and world No. 1 Brazil, USA, Japan, China, Russia, Italy, Serbia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Korea, Turkey and Thailand – play round-robin tournaments (each with four teams) on three weekends to determine which four countries will progress to the final round. They will be joined at the grand finale from August 20 to 24 by the host nation – yet to be announced – and the winner of the Final Four (from August 15 to 17 in Poland) from pools J to O. These groups feature Poland, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada, Cuba and Belgium. Pools P to S also include eight teams: Kenya, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Bulgaria and Australia. The Final Four tournament for these groups, which feature the lowest-ranked teams, will be held in Bulgaria from August 15 to 17.
The competition also looks guaranteed to set new records in terms of global media coverage. In recent years, over 700 million households on six continents were able to watch the games. This is a constant increase in the number of deals with the 31 international broadcasters transmitting primary footage. This is particularly remarkable given the serious competition it faced last year – such as the Olympic Games and the European Football Championship. All 105 matches were produced and made available to the broadcasters worldwide. Interest on the FIVB Web TV platform in countries, to which TV rights were not sold, also soared. The FIVB World Grand Prix is a bestseller, which combines great sport with a spectacular show every year.
When it comes to growth, the history of the Grand Prix is without doubt a success story. When the competition made its debut back in 1993, it featured only eight teams – as it did between 1995 and 2002. In 1994 and from 2003 to 2010 this number increased to twelve. Sixteen teams were involved in the 2011 and 2012 Grands Prix. 20 last year, and now 28. In 2014, it promises to be more exciting than ever: Drama – and a host of new records – are guaranteed. On every continent, including Africa.