So it was no joke! This Wednesday Yves Bouget, president of the National Volleyball League, confirmed during a press conference that the Chinese Federation had “contacted him within the framework of an international sports convention aimed at preparing [son] men’s team for the 2024 Paris Olympics”. Information that Le Parisien revealed on June 25. In fact, this selection would integrate the League A championship from the start of the next school year for a period of two seasons.
The objective being that the internationals of the Middle Empire can prepare as well as possible in France before tackling the Games. A practice that already exists in certain individual sports – “like swimming and athletics in the United States” recalls Bouget – but unprecedented in a collective discipline. The League will also provide a French technician to the Chinese selection who will be the coach’s assistant.
“I am not surprised by this approach, continues the boss of the LNV who was approached in the spring. They are pragmatic, France is Olympic champion… It is recognition of the know-how of the League and of French professional volleyball, which played in two European finals last season. I am delighted with such a possibility if it materializes. Be broadcast in front of potentially a billion viewers (Editor’s note: the matches of the selection, which will all be played at 3 p.m. on Saturdays due to the time difference, will be broadcast live on Chinese television CCTV) makes me love it. »
Without forgetting that there will be “spillovers for the championship and the players”. According to Bouget, the list of candidates – club or local authority – to host the Asian delegation is important. It is a “phenomenal economic booster”, “a quantum leap for French volleyball” he says. Cities like Paris, Ile-de-France, Orléans or even the Vendéspace of Mouilleron-le-Captif are mentioned as places to live.
In return, the League will receive a check which would vary between 1 and 1.5 million euros. “There is a confidentiality protocol so I will never give the figures,” warns Bouget, who knows Chinese philosophy well. “I spent 30 years of my life there, two months a year, I know you have to be careful, that everything can change suddenly. “Everything is still in the embryonic state, this agreement far from being finalized,” he warns.
A problem of sports equity?
Especially since many gray areas still exist. “There is a particular and more than delicate geopolitical context with China, it is not easy”, confides a club leader. Others point to a problem of sporting fairness and potentially a championship distorted by “the fluctuating motivation according to the matches” of the Chinese selection.
The latter, whose points will be counted, will not be affected by relegation but will be able to participate in the playoffs. On the other hand, she will not be able to be champion of France. Which means that if it qualifies and wins the final, it will be the unfortunate finalist who will be crowned.
“I don’t see how fairness, which is a moral value, would be in question in China’s participation in the championship, replies Bouget. The players will be those listed for the VNL (World League, competition in which France also participates) this season. China is the 17th nation in the world, it’s a great volleyball team. If they come to prepare for the 2024 Games, it’s not to string pearls… They are extremely motivated. In other words, they will play all their matches with the same intensity and involvement. “We are therefore going to help a selection to beat our French team at the Games”, ironically a player.
The legal aspect of such a file seems to be the main question. The big black dot. “The project is well advanced but certain legal points, numerous, must be clarified to obtain the approval of the Ministry (sports), explains Bouget, who works in transparency with the French authorities. It’s not simple. They have to be lifted. France is a country of rights, it must be respected. »
Bouget’s announcements do not remove all doubts for the leaders and players of French clubs. “There are a lot of questions, the problem will be political,” said ex-international Yannick Bazin, president of the players’ union. It is neither the League nor the Federation that will decide in the end, it is the Ministry. If he thinks it’s not possible, it won’t happen. »
“It should be settled by the end of next week”
“I am not opposed in principle, you have to try new things for the good of French volleyball, says Joëlle Logeais, president of the Plessis Robinson club. The financial contribution can help relieve the clubs, which have many expenses and will have to pay half of the production rights for the matches broadcast on beIN Sports. This should bring people to the halls and bring visibility to French volleyball. »
“The positive side is that we are going to talk about volleyball, smiles Bazin. I surveyed the players and the result is very divided. If we have to go through it to grow the championship, we are not opposed. But I hope that the clubs will receive more than the sums announced (approximately 50,000 euros per club per season), it is not enough to hope to structure itself. »
The final decision – agreement or not – should be announced in the coming days. “It must be settled at the end of next week”, assures Yves Bouget.