By Mike Rowbottom

British volleyball v SerbiaDecember 7 - Britain's male and female indoor volleyball teams learned today they will definitely be competing at the London 2012 Games.

The announcement by the British Olympic Association (BOA) that both teams had earned the right to take up Host Nation Qualification Places - available to home competitors who might not otherwise qualify for the Games - comes just two days before UK Sport, which virtually halved the level of funding for British volleyball from £4.3 million ($6.8 million) to £2.2 million ($3.4 million) as from October 1 this year, makes its annual investment review.

In response, the British Volleyball Federation (BVF) took its women's volleyball and men's beach volleyball teams off the funding programme.

Andy Hunt, the BOA's chief executive, denied that today's commitment was intended to put any pressure on UK Sport to alter their funding levels for the sport.

"It's a pure coincidence in terms of timing," Hunt said.

"Our main concern was to ensure that the athletes concerned were not left in limbo any longer than they needed to be."

But he added: "We are really hoping that UK Sport will consider supporting the women's team as they seek the £200,000 ($316,000) they will need to continue competing at international level next year."

He added that the next sport under consideration for a host nation place, handball, would be the subject of an announcement before the Christmas break.

Basketball may also be another sport requiring confirmation of host sation status.

A UK Sport spokesman said: "We are pleased that our current investment in volleyball - currently totalling £8.5 million ($13.4 million) for the period from 2006 to 2013 – has enabled the sport to meet the BOA's qualification criteria for the Indoor teams in London.

"The continued level of this investment will be considered alongside every other Olympic and Paralympic sport, summer and winter, as part of our annual review this week.

"The review is a very detailed process that has been going on since early November and is designed to ensure the maximum impact of the resources available at the time."

Richard Callicott, the BVF President, said today that the federation was working with "a major fundraiser" to try and set up private sponsorship for the women's team, who plan to continue playing international matches at home and abroad to prepare for London 2012.

British volleyball team on bike

Women's captain Lynne Beattie, who recently led her team on a 275-mile bike ride from Sheffield to London to raise funds for their 2012 campaign, commented: "No matter what the funding situation is, we are all committed to going to the London Olympics and giving it absolutely everything.

"We are all absolutely delighted that we have earned recognition for all the hard work we have done in the last four years.

"But this is only a beginning - we have a lot of work to do to make sure we are the best we can be in London."

Beattie, currently playing professional club volleyball for Cedat 85 San Vito in Italy, added: "It's fantastic news to hear that we are going to compete for our country at London 2012 after all the uncertainty of the past few months.

"We have been dedicated to that dream for the past four years and giving up that dream was just unthinkable for all of us."

Ben Pipes, captain of the GB men's volleyball team, who is currently playing professional club volleyball for Langhenkel Volley in the Netherlands, added: "The verdict from the BOA is a massive victory for British volleyball and for all the staff, coaches, and players alike.

"It is the sum of years of training and torment in the pursuit of our collective dream of taking volleyball to London 2012."

Pipes was among the British players who spent time playing in the highly competitive Dutch league in 2006 as the BVF strove to kick-start the sport towards Olympic contention.

Callicott added: "The programmes for both teams has involved 173 full international matches since its inception in 2006 and we have developed exciting young talent with 20 men and 17 women now playing in over 24 different professional club sides in Europe and North America.

"It is a magnificent step on the road to London 2012, and a sign that volleyball in this country is moving forward.

"The sport has shown a tremendous solidarity between the Home Country Associations, and our coaches have set very high standards.

"We will demonstrate that GB can compete with more than just a credible performance."

For the London 2012 Olympic Games, the BOA has stipulated that any sport seeking to utilise a Host Nation Qualification Place must first demonstrate the following:

1) The ability to deliver a credible performance during the London 2012 Games.

2) A long-term strategy to deliver a meaningful legacy as a result of the profile and visibility associated with competing in the Games, with a particular emphasis on increasing opportunities for participation by athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers at the grassroots level.

The decision to permit the British Volleyball Federation to take up the host nation status was made by the Olympic Qualifying Standards Panel, which among others includes Hunt; the chair of the BOA Athletes Commission, Sarah Winckless; and the BOA's director of sport Sir Clive Woodward.

The decision was made following detailed consultation with the BVF.

The Olympic Qualifying Standards Panel is currently working with the National Governing Bodies to finalise and approve the qualification standards and pathway to London 2012 for every sport.

In many cases, sports will qualify for the Games through their performance in specific international events.

For a select group of sports, however, the qualification process may involve the use of a Host Nation Qualification Place.

"Our objective is to be as inclusive as possible, as it is our aspiration to have the largest team in over a century representing Great Britain at home in London 2012," Hunt said.

"Equally however, we understand that the British public expects every athlete who competes for Team GB to be capable of delivering a credible performance during the Games.

"Significant public investment has been made in preparing British athletes for London 2012 and beyond, and it is entirely appropriate to expect our Olympic athletes will have the ability to be competitive in sports in which, historically, we have not been strong.

"We are delighted to see that British Volleyball has put in place a plan to ensure that the men's and women's indoor teams representing Team GB are capable of delivering a credible performance in London 2012, and will utilise the unique platform of a home Games to inspire the next generation of volleyball participants."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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