The Ministry of Sports must validate this Wednesday the participation of the Chinese team in the French men’s championship (LAM). Since Monday, this project has gone from dream to reality… even if questions remain unanswered. Story of the three days that turned French volleyball upside down.
“We were stuck on our ass!”: the expression of this president of an experienced Ligue A club reflects the state of mind of the 13 other participants in the videoconference organized Monday evening by Yves Bouget, the president of the National Volleyball League (LNV). If the club bosses knew, for some, the main lines of this iconoclastic project to invite a national team, that of China, to participate in the French championship, the explosion was real in the Landerneau of French volleyball.
It all started with an initiative of the French Volleyball Federation (FFVolley). In contact with all the world delegations, the president of the Federation, Eric Tanguy, knows that the Chinese team wishes to prepare well for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and that French professional volleyball is looking for subsidies and media exposure. . The contact established, he connects the Chinese Federation and the French league to tie up a project in the greatest secrecy.
If the first echoes come out in the press at the end of June, Yves Bouget officially presents the project to the presidents of clubs during a videoconference, on this first Monday of July. “The LNV had just announced an agreement to broadcast the championship with the beIN Sport channel. But there, we were pleasantly surprised, admits a manager. President Bouget in full presentation? We would have thought we were on the school bench against to the master who gives his lecture.”
A windfall of 1.3 million euros per season
Yves Bouget unrolls. Project, we must now speak of program as the presentation is well put together, at least in appearance. It is not a dream, it is no longer a chimera. It is a very concrete reality. The league offers the participation of the national team of China, 17th nation in the world ranking of the International Federation (FIVB), in the French championship of Men’s League A (LAM). The Chinese federation is considering a two-year contract, for 1.3 million euros per season. A boon. The opportunity to bail out the coffers of French volleyball is too good.
And contrary to what has been written, there was never any question of each League A club receiving 50,000 euros from this Chinese financial windfall, as many presidents have certified to RMC Sport. “No redistribution for the clubs has been proposed, insists a leader. But the question arises because this financial contribution is godsend for the clubs. I am not saying certain clubs. I am thinking of all the French clubs of LAM, sighs a president.”
Faced with the well-understood financial interest, club bosses have however stepped up to ask for clarification. “It was direct, sometimes vehement but often relevant, rewinds another participant. Of course the marketing aspect is well seen, the international exposure with the broadcasting of matches on Chinese television is a great step forward but we did not give a blank check to the program, he concludes.
The question of the playoffs
Redistribution, additional costs related to the organization of new days, commitment of new costs… if the financial aspect must be further refined, the sporting aspect also calls for clarification, in particular on equity. The questions fuse and some answers fall: can the Chinese selection be crowned French champion of LAM? No. Can she go down to League B if her ranking requires it? No. Can she make the championship playoffs if she finishes in the top eight? The question was not decided on Monday evening but a majority of leaders now seem to be in favor of it. “How to refuse the Chinese selection to participate in the most important tournament of the season, if it deserves it by finishing in the first eight?”, Insists the member of a staff who even thinks that the Chinese team can even aim the Top 4 of the championship. “On the other hand, what to say to a French club which will be the turkey of the farce by finishing ninth”, regrets another.
In a championship originally comprising 14 clubs, the participation of the Chinese selection, 15th team, then imposes a reformation of the calendar. And first of all to answer the question: “should we stay with 15 teams, with an exempt formation during each day or should we evolve with 16 teams?” Asks a president for RMC Sport.
The case of AS Cannes… finally fished out?
Then appears a new team in this project: AS Cannes, training relegated sportingly at the end of the season. According to LNV regulations, only the club that is relegated to League B can be drafted. So AS Cannes. This historic French volleyball club, champion of France 2021, plunged to the bottom floor after a season in hell marked by injuries, recruitment errors and, in the end, a last place in the playdowns. The case becomes comical when we remember that the Riviera club scrapped against the LNV for a disputed recruitment case during the winter transfer window. The League sanctioned the Riviera club by deducting points and ordering it to no longer play with its recruits. Finally, AS Cannes was able to play with all its players and then threatened to take legal action to defend its interests… to finally, therefore, go down to Ligue B.
If relations have been stormy between the LNV and Cannes, the League has nevertheless asked the Riviera club to prepare a budget to play in… League A, according to our information. To govern is to foresee and the LNV was thus preparing for the possible arrival of the Chinese team in LAM, guarding against an administrative raid on elite clubs, targeted by the DNACG, the financial policeman of volleyball. Today, the new two-headed management of AS Cannes is ready for any eventuality and reaches out to the League: “It’s still vague, insists a member of the Riviera club, but if the opportunity to stay in the League A exists, our desire to succeed is real. We sent the message to the professional bodies that the time for sporting and legal guerrilla warfare was over. It’s behind us. We want to calm relations between Cannes and the League.” If, sportingly, the team seems to be in place around new coach Jason Haldane, the Croisette club is ready for financial adjustments involving maintenance in Ligue A, when the budget had initially been formatted for the lower level.
The Côte d’Azur club is ready, the regulations are favorable to it… but Monday evening, during the video, the idea of maintaining AS Cannes was not unanimous among the club presidents. And that’s an understatement. “Faced with the shortcomings of Cannes during the past season, some club presidents wanted to promote the finalist of the Ligue B playoffs instead”, says a boss of LAM. “Of course the Mediterranean club made a mistake, but the rules are clear, insists another manager for RMC Sport. So if there is maintenance, it can only be AS Cannes. It goes beyond enmities and battles of ego.”
China is looking for a city and a room
If there are outstanding questions, which the LNV should raise with all the club presidents who now want the decision to be taken quickly, the Chinese selection is actively looking for a resident city and a hall. According to information from RMC Sport, China is aiming for an agglomeration which has an airport and a room with 2,500 to 3,000 seats to LNV standards (high ceiling and large screen, in particular). At the beginning of the week, the town hall of Paris had not received any request from the Chinese selection to have training slots and a room to evolve in LAM. At Paris Volley, the idea of sharing Charpy’s room seems unrealistic, with the training sessions of the resident professional club and those of the affiliated amateur club, the PUC, not to mention the sports hours of the surrounding schools.
Monday evening, at the end of the meeting, the bosses of LAM clubs gave their agreement in principle to President Bouget. It remains to convince the supervisory ministry. The meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, to close the three most incredible days of French volleyball.