David Owen

In a week when the less edifying side of the quest for sports success is being thrust again into our faces, what a relief it was to immerse myself in the detailed programme for the next International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board meeting in Lausanne.

Especially as my eye was drawn to something unexpected: no, not the "Christmas cocktail buffet with the IOC Communications Team", delightful as that promises to be; what I have in mind is a scheduled 90-minute joint meeting on December 4 between the Executive Board and FIVB - the International Volleyball Federation.

On making further inquiries, I was surprised to be told repeatedly and on unimpeachable authority, I think, that the meeting is nothing to get too worked up about.

FIVB itself told me: "Like other International Federations, the FIVB received an invitation to hold our senior executive meetings at the Olympic House.

"The FIVB has accepted this kind invitation and we will be holding our ExCo meeting there on December 4, the same day as the IOC EB meeting.

"Therefore, as a courtesy, the IOC and FIVB will have a joint meeting to discuss topics of mutual interest."

I suppose "topics of mutual interest" covers just about anything, so we will see what emerges.

The powers-that-be within international volleyball have high ambitions for the sport ©Getty Images
The powers-that-be within international volleyball have high ambitions for the sport ©Getty Images

At all events, these are interesting times for a sport that has set itself some demanding targets, notably to make itself "the world's number one family sport".

The return of the Summer Olympics to Tokyo next year, for example, will be a big moment for volleyball.

The sport made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 1964 Games.

Not only that, the women's event was won, to great acclaim, by the home team.

According to author Robin Kietlinski*, "Coach Daimatsu's 'witches of the Orient' were arguably the most famous Japanese athletes to emerge from the Tokyo Olympics".

As Kietlinski explains, "The Olympic team was comprised primarily of players from the Dai Nihon Bōseki…textile factory's company team."

Volleyball, she adds, "had become very popular in Japan in the immediate post-war years due to the fact that it was inexpensive and could be enjoyed with just a ball and a small amount of space".

I would think accordingly that details of what might be quite a poignant 2020 Olympic tournament may well form part of next month's discussions in Lausanne.

Also potentially encapsulated by that phrase, "topics of mutual interest", are some of the 11 "strategic goals" outlined by FIVB President Ary Graça at the end of the federation's last World Congress in Cancun a year ago.

Gymnastics is now considered tier one in IOC rankings, with American Simone Biles a key figure in the sport's success ©Getty Images
Gymnastics is now considered tier one in IOC rankings, with American Simone Biles a key figure in the sport's success ©Getty Images

I am assured that FIVB remains "relentless in our pursuit of reaching" these goals and is "making great progress across a number" of them.

One might imagine, for instance, that goal number one - "to move volleyball from group 2 to group 1 in the IOC ranking by 2020" - might well crop up in the conversation at Olympic House.

Swimming and gymnastics have joined athletics in this coveted top tier.

Based on Rio 2016 figures, I think promotion would likely have added somewhere in the region of $7 million (£5.45 million/€6.4 million) to FIVB's income over four years.

Another strategic goal - "to grow the average FIVB annual income from media rights sales, sponsoring, digital and event hosting from $31 million (£24 million/€28 million) to $66 million (£51 million/€60 million) by 2020" - seemingly commits the federation to a steep rate of top-line growth.

It also wants "to sign four new global sponsors by 2020 with a goal of $10 million (£7.8 million/€9 million) annually".

A display at the foot of the FIVB.com homepage shows one FIVB Global Partner - Chinese water company Ganten - along with two Official Suppliers (Mikasa and Senoh), one Indoor Volleyball Supplier (Gerflor) and two Official Supporters (Schenker and Asics).

The federation's 2017 financial statements, the most recent obtainable, show net proceeds from sponsoring fee sales of CHF6.14 million ($6.2 million/£4.8 million/€5.6 million), down from CHF6.63 million ($6.7 million/£5.2 million/€6.1 million) in 2016.

But they also show that overall revenues were already well over CHF60 million ($60.5 million/£47 million/€55 million) in both years in question.

This is partly because 70 per cent of funds from Rio 2016 - just under CHF17 million ($17 million/£13 million/€15.5 million) - are taken into account in this first half of the cycle.

But 2017 also yielded over CHF27 million ($27.3 million/£21.2 million/€24.8 million) in net proceeds from TV rights, CHF8.4 million ($8.5 million/£6.6 million/€7.7 million) from hosting fees and CHF7.8 million ($7.9 million/£6.1 million/€7.2 million) from licence and entry fees.

The accounts also indicate that betting rights are growing in importance, with net proceeds from that source rising from well under CHF500,000 ($500,000/£390,000/€450,000) in 2016 to CHF2.2 million ($2.2 million/£1.7 million/€2 million) a year later. 

In short, there should be much to chew over in three weeks' time at Olympic House, both at and away from the Christmas cocktail buffet.

*Japanese Women and Sport – Beyond Baseball and Sumo by Robin Kietlinski, published in 2011 by Bloomsbury Academic.