Far from the glamour and excitement depicted of the Olympics lies the unspoken inner-workings of funding. Women’s volleyball is a magnificent newcomer to the Great British Olympic scene, but it hasn’t arrived with an easy ride: imagine the epic LOST tale, only a little easier to understand and a whole lot less cosmopolitan. Having the rare pleasure of witnessing the journey of the GB Women’s Volleyball team firsthand is something I will forever carry with me, and I dare say that the team’s astounding win over Algeria on the 31st of July 2012 truly epitomises the Olympic slogan: Inspire a Generation.
The overcoming of the tribulations that this emerging team suffered on the road to London was a testament to British sportsmanship. Digging deep has ascertained an entirely new meaning after the journey of these women. These athletes-come-fundraisers spent the last two years of their journey campaigning and garnering funds from every and any source they could find. Carey Wicks launched the campaign “Adopt an Olympian”, which carried the girls forward to the games by gaining partnerships with schools to fundraise in exchange for a link to a particular volleyball player. This gained her national recognition by the Torch Trophy Trust. How has British sport come to this? Inspire a generation, or bleed a team dry until they’ve got nothing left to give? Leave a legacy? A legacy that shouts: yes, we’ll encourage you, but when it really comes to it we’ll dash the hopes your team has. How can sport develop and flourish if a programme is cut short after its first cycle? The answer is simple: it cannot possibly work.
One win. An unforgettable win against a team ranked 50 places higher in the world. An eruption of Britishness and pride filled a stadium. A win for a team which, six years prior to the London Olympics, didn’t exist. The GB Women made history by ranking 9th in the Olympic Games – the first indoor volleyball team to represent Great Britain at an Olympic games.
Recognition even came from FIVB President Mr Wei, stating “You are a very young team and you have shown that you can offer a legacy. You have given the world a message that Great Britain are here to stay. You have improved every day and I know that you will inspire a generation.” This is no small feat by any means.
Their reward? Zero funding post-2012. Maria Bertelli, Great British volleyball player, is quoted as saying: ‘I remember when I never thought about sport and money in the same sentence, sport was something I played; something I did at school in PE but the reality is it’s now much more than that. Sport is run like a business…‘ We really enter a world of sport-politics now, a world where money is thrown at the sports which are going to get us medals – success is read as a medal count, a number and a colour. How do you measure success chances of a sport which is very much still in its ‘British infancy’ – it is nearly impossible to compare to cycling or gymnastics which have deep roots in British Olympic history.
UK Sport set criteria for the Great British team to achieve: show us you can compete on a world stage. It goes without saying the team can compete. Having lost all funding in August 2010, the Olympic dream was almost dashed when funding was slashed and diverted to the GB Men’s volleyball team, who failed to win a match, or even a set, during the games. This is not going to turn into a feminist crusade, but we really need to call into question how funding is split: should we offer an unwavering preference to the overly glorified, preset male-Adonis imagery of athleticism, over a team so determined to succeed and inspire the generation who have supported them to a spectacular win under the roof of Earl’s Court? How can we deny them a future opportunity to fulfill their Olympian roles?
Head coach, Audrey Cooper, has been appointed a key member of the FIVB Coaching Commission and has earned vast amounts of praise for her commitment to a team with no funding. The Leisure Review summarises this perfectly: “The countless hours studying a variety of sports over the Olympic fortnight highlighted one coaching star, the aforementioned volleyball coach Audrey Cooper, the only coach in any of the ‘home nation picks’ who won a game”.
The only home coach of a developing team who won a game. A true testament to the power of the team and the immense dedication. It goes without saying that the inner politics of sport is left behind closed doors for a simple reason: public backlash. It is indeed public expenditure, but how could you possibly deny a team Olympic future? We see a good investment, why don’t we invest? Simply because of our inherent British scepticism. I think the legacy speaks for itself. If we cannot support the women who deliver, who can we support? How can we inspire this new youth generation to get out and fight for what they believe in, how can we claim to seek Olympic dominance? Irrespective of medal status, I would so greatly wish to turn the clocks back and witness the win over Algeria time and again. The rallying of Britishness and pride embodied in the triumph of an underdog says it all. Inspire a generation. Inspire a new Britain.