Volleyball Men’s World Championship kicks off

It is the time when Russia will feel hurt as much as possible

The FIVB Men’s World Championship kicked off with a match between Brazil and Cuba. It was going to be held in Russia, but Poland and Slovenia replaced us as hosts and Ukraine did as a competitor. Realnoe Vremya’s journalist Jaudat Abdullin talks about the first world championship our country misses.

Sheer symbolism of coincidences

Ukraine that will have the first match against Tunisia in Group A will replace team Russia. The host teams of the WC were going to start the fight a day later, Poland against Bolgaria in Group C and Slovenia against Germany in Group D. This goes against all the rules because the world championship must open with the host team’s match. It is interesting that there was a rule until 2002 that the reigning world champion plays the first match, and this allowed avoiding offences at the World Championship in Japan and Korea, a tournament that was held in two countries for the first time in history — Japan and South Korea.

The world championship was going to start with a match in Russia, but the International Federation replaced it with Ukraine. There is no symbolism in the replacement, Ukraine was first in the rating. For instance, Latvia replaced us at the youth world championship, Montenegro will replace us at the European basketball championship in September, Croatia will occupy the place of Russians at the women’s volleyball world championship. By the way, a half of the women’s world championship that will start after the men’s will also be held in Poland and Holland.

Neither is there symbolism in the fact that Moscow Mayor Alexander Gorbenko was the chairman of the 2022 WC’s organising committee, he was born in Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, 60 years ago. For some reason, the competition draw was at the Gymnastics Palace named after Irina Viner-Usmanova. Nine months later after this event, she announced her divorce from Alisher Usmanov. Finally, the last interview for the website of the WC’s organising committee was published with one of the stars of world volleyball Tine Urnaut on 23 February, a day to the start of the special military operation. It would be okay, but Urnaut represents Slovenia where the WC moved. There is no symbolism, but the frequencies of coincidences is surprising, to be honest.

Latvia and Ukraine, Croatia and Montenegro that replace Russia in different game sports at different 2022 world championships are all on the list of unfriendly countries. But one shouldn’t have illusions that somebody will miss Russian national teams even in those countries with quite a positive attitude to them. For instance, Serbia that turned out to be in one group at the 2022 WC got weaker Ukraine instead of a strong opponent. Remember if there were many people concerned about Yugoslavia when Denmark replaced it at the 1992 European Football Championship at the last minute. When Serbia was back from sports isolation in 1995, the first thing it did was to win the European basketball championship. No, in Russia, many were happy about the Danish underdog in football, while in basketball people rooted for former compatriots Lithuanians who contended for the gold in the final against Serbia.

Ukraine competes at the WC and prepares for the start of the national championship

The history of volleyball championships illustrates that there was a lot of force majeure in the past, up to four potential competitors had to be replaced at times. Even national teams of rival countries were replaced when Taiwan was replaced with China at the 1974 WC, moreover, both the men and women’s teams. But the competitor and its organiser has never been replaced.

As for the optimal team, Ukraine lacks two players playing abroad — Dmytro Teryomenko and Ian Iereshchenko, who left Yenisey in Krasnoarsk and found a spot in the UAE championship. Third international Dmytro Viietskyi was called for the camp but he didn’t make it to the final squad.

All the enumerated volleyball players played in the Russian Championship earlier as well as those who are on the final team Ilya Kovalyov (Gazprom-Yugra), Yury Sinitsa (Yugra-Samotlor), Vitaly Shchytkov (Tyumen). Oleh Plotnitsky (Italy), Andrii Tupchii who moved to Serbia from the Kazakhstan Championship, Timofei Poluyan (the UAE) are among those playing abroad but are on the national team.

National championship with eight teams

Most national team players play in the main new volleyball team of the country — Epicentr-Podolyany from Horodok (Khmelnytskyi Oblast) that bought the best players of the rival from Lviv — Brova, Drozd, Kisilyuk, Semenyuk (all on the national team) and Fomin and gathered players from the abroad. The name Epicentr is even on the T-shirts of team Ukraine, since this team has been the main sponsor of the national team for three years now.

Barkom-Kazhany from Lviv ruined by its scouts is the main opponent of Epicentr- Podolyany. Uģis Krastiņš from Latvia is the head coach of the team, it planned to change the Ukrainian championship for Poland next year, therefore it was fine about the departure of leading volleyball players to the rival team. Now the plans aren’t doomed to become a reality because Lviv is going to stay in the Ukrainian Championship. Student of Kazan volleyball Alexander Dyachkov played in the team until the last moment but then moved to Kemerovo. It is interesting that one of his rivals in the Ukrainian Championship, Nik Sotnik from Reshetilovka became fighter of a territorial defence battalion.

The named teams and another five squad are going to compete in the new championship of the country, all the matches are scheduled to take place in Chernivtsi, in the southwest of Ukraine. In fact, it will be the home venue for the team from Kharkiv that is going to settle in Chernivtsi. The same number of teams — eight — is going to play in the women’s championship.

Surprising Qatar

Qatar’s 4th place at the Asian Games after a victory against Japan in the quarterfinals was a sensation in international volleyball in 2018. Qatar, by the way, is debuting in the WC in Russia, and fans should get used to the last names that aren’t characteristic of the Arab country. Vasić, Djukić, Ivović, the Stevanović brothers, Adnan Bjelopoljak, this is a product of countries of former Yugoslavia. Goiano, Renan Ribeiro and Thiago Guimarães are Brazilians, plus Borislav Georgiyev from Bulgaria, and these aren’t all naturalised players. On the other hand, we can note that this team wasn’t created in a hurry, it consists of players who have been playing in the country’s championship for a long time because they aren’t claimed in their homeland. Team captain Renan Ribeiro has been in Qatar since 2011 as well as Ilia Ivović, Al-Wakra (Russian Bogdan Glivenko plays there too). Miloš Stevanović and Bojan Djukić have been there since 2012 as well as Goiano who is playing at Tours, France, and helped his team to defeat Italy’s Modena in the CEV Cup this winter.

Boris Georgiyev has been playing at Police since 2013, Marko Stefanović and Nikola Vasić — since 2014. Vasić plays for Al-Ahli together with Russian Alexey Spiridonov, Miloš Stevanović as well as Russian Vyacheslav Tarasov at Al-Rayyn, Bjelopoljak, Djukić, Marko Stefanović and Ribeiro play for Al-Arabi. Plus, several Russians including former Ukrainian Konstantin Bakun are in this country too.

Why do need this review of Qatari volleyball? To prevent cocksure moods too. For instance, in 2015, Qatar’s men’s handball team was the silver medallist of the world championship. Team Qatar was created in the same way when foreigners playing in the country for a long time were collected, moreover, the Qatari handball championship is less strong than the volleyball championship where stars gather.

“Russian trace”

In the absence of team Russia, one can look for the infamous “Russian trace” in many volleyball teams of the world. Team Canada’s blocker Danny Demyanenko whose parents fled from Soviet Ukraine in the early 40s is the most interesting one, of course. Then “something went wrong,” and Demyanenko is now dark-skinned.

Yefim Chulak made volleyball popular in Canada. He comes from Gagauzia, a student of two Chelyabinsk coaches Yury Zachernevsky (Anatoly Poroshin was his player who brought up Vadim Khamutskikh) and Yury Makarov who moved to Israel after the dissolution of the USSR where he worked with the local national team, then to Canada where he started to work as an insurance agent and help develop volleyball in Montreal. Or Australia where Tashkent-born Grigory Sukovech and Sverdlovsk-born Igor Yudin played for, Mark Lebedev worked with the national team, while the only gold in volleyball (beach volleyball, Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst, 2000) is his brother Alexey Lebedev’s efforts too.

Iran’s current successes are first of all due to the end of the bloodshed war in 1908-1988 against Iraq because of which the country was out of the volleyball community for a long time. After a debut at the 1970 WC, it played for the second time only in 1998, after the war. But Soviet and Russian coaches who successfully worked there are indirectly related to the Iranian successes. Ivan Bugayenkov spent there 13 years, from 1992 to 2005. Andrey Patrakov, and since 2006 ex-Leningrad player Sergey Gribov have done a lot to raise volleyball in the country. And we remember that Vladimir Alenko chaired team Iran at the 2020 Olympics.

Serbia that played with the flag of Yugoslavia then turned out in sports isolation that coincided with the dissolution of the country and successfully coped with all hardships of that stage. Now all these components — international isolation and the ongoing dissolution of the country — turned out to be divided between Russia and Ukraine. The volleyball players of the yellow-blue team are in the most complicated situation compared to other sports because they have to organise camps and training for the entire group of athletes. Therefore this year’s WC will become an additional opportunity to see how the team prepared for the tournament in the most uncomfortable conditions for this.

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.