Originally published by Spark Magazine in February 2014, online and in print.
This is not how it was supposed to be. London 2012 promised to bring British sport to the top of the political agenda, to inspire a generation and to encourage the country to play more sport.
But for volleyball, the reality is that there has been little change post-Olympics, and UK Sport’s decision to cut the sport’s funding by almost 90% means that it is unlikely that the situation will improve any time soon.
Sunderland City Predators’ Eve Porter – who has also been a coach and is part of the sports department at a North East college – says: “Leading up to the Olympics there was stuff geared towards kids to get them involved, some of which are still going but a lot aren’t”.
“So we were getting juniors involved, but a lot of that has stopped in certain places. It’s just sort of fizzling out really.
“We always hear the term legacy, but it’s done nothing for volleyball. Especially up north – if you’re down south you might have got a few things from London 2012 but the only thing that’s changed is that people know what volleyball is now.
“The Olympics finished and that was just kind of it. It’s been business as usual for volleyball since then.”
UK Sport announced in December 2012 that, as part of their 2016 Olympic funding programme, the funding for volleyball would be cut from £3.53m to £0.4m. Of volleyball’s three disciplines, only women’s beach volleyball will be financed through to 2016, with the indoor and sitting programmes set to receive nothing.
The distribution of over £347m – made up of taxpayer money and National Lottery funding – across 24 Olympic sports is based on medal chances at the next Olympics.
Great Britain’ men finished bottom of their pool in 2012 and were knocked out in the preliminary round, while the women were narrowly beaten to a place in the quarter-finals after winning their maiden Olympic game in London. Volleyball’s 2012 target was, chiefly, for one team to win a match, which they did – but their funding was still cut despite an 11% overall rise in investment for the next Olympics.
In an article for BT Sport, former-British volleyball player Joanna Healy has criticised UK Sport for not “keeping their word” and said that the “legacy has become something of a farce”.
“The hype and excitement has well and truly faded”, said Healy. “And the legacy that was promised is nothing but a forgotten dream.”
Porter says, “there’s still local leagues and national leagues, there’s not the support that there was for volleyball anymore. If we’re trying to get kids to come into sport, they’ve got no-one to look up to because there’s nothing happening with the national team, they’ve got nothing to aspire to.
The Predators – who are gunning for the Womens Division 3 North play-offs this season – have had some new players join them this season but they were already playing for other local league sides.
Coach Keith Sowden says that he has seen an increase in players when he coaches at Newburn College, but the impact of London 2012 has still been minimal.
“In general terms I don’t think the Olympics has made any great difference whatsoever,” said Sowden.
“What’s going to happen to most clubs is that they will be affiliated to a university, and that’s the only way you’re going to progress. You’re talking about the transport fees, the ref fees, the court hire, kit, all of that. I think volleyball is going to become increasingly polarized towards the further education establishments.
“I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing but I think it might be a way forward, because everyone knows there’s so much funding in further education.”
Porter adds: “Volleyball is massive across Europe and across the world, and we’re not even funding a GB team to go to competitions, and in Rio… if we can’t even put a team in there, it’s just massively disappointing. They’re funding other sports, why not ours?
“We can maybe say ‘we came sixth in the table for the Olympics’, but not everyone cares about that. People want to see their sport do well and for those people who have got a sport that is more low-key, like volleyball or even hockey, it’s difficult. People do enjoy it when they see volleyball, it’s just a shame we can’t get more people playing.
“Volleyball’s never going to get any more money because we haven’t got the money to improve it at the bottom. We don’t have the opportunity to make the situation better. It’s not going to get any better unless they decide to change the way they distribute their funding, which is probably not going to happen. So I think we’re just hitting our heads off brick walls.”