The Ministry of Sports is to validate the Chinese team’s participation in the French Men’s Championship (LAM) this Wednesday. Since Monday, this project has gone from dream to reality… even if questions remain unanswered. The story of the three days that turned French volleyball upside down.
“We were stuck on our asses!”: The expression of this president of an experienced Ligue A club reflects the mood of the 13 other participants in the video conference organized on Monday evening by Yves Bouget, the president of the National Volleyball League (LNV ) ). If for some the club bosses knew the main features of this iconoclastic project to invite a national team, that of China, to participate in the French Championship, then the explosion was really 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 wants to prepare well for the Olympic Games of 2024 in Paris and that French professional volleyball is looking for subsidies and media attention. The contact that has been established links the Chinese Federation and the French League to capture a project in the greatest secrecy.
When the first echoes appear in the press at the end of June, Yves Bouget officially presents the project to the presidents of clubs during a video conference, on this first Monday of July. “The LNV had just announced an agreement to broadcast the championship with the beIN Sport channel. But we were pleasantly surprised there, admits a manager. President Bouget in full presentation? We would have thought we were at school against the master giving 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’s not a dream, it’s no longer a chimera. It is a very concrete reality. The competition offers the participation of the national team of China, the 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 blessing. The chance to save the treasury of French volleyball is too good.
And contrary to what has been written, there was never any talk of any League A club receiving €50,000 from this Chinese financial windfall, as many presidents have stated to RMC Sport. “No redistribution has been proposed for the clubs, insists a leader. But the question arises because this financial contribution is a godsend for the clubs. I am not saying certain clubs. I am thinking of all the French clubs of LAM, a chairman sighs.” †
However, faced with the well-known financial interest, club bosses have risen to ask for clarification. “It was direct, sometimes intense but often relevant, rewinds another participant. Of course the marketing aspect is well seen, the international awareness of broadcasting matches on Chinese television is a big step forward, but we did not give a blank check to the program, he decides.
The matter of the playoffs
Redistribution, additional costs associated with the organization of new days, commitment of new costs… if the financial aspect needs to be further refined, the sporting aspect also requires clarification, especially in terms of fairness. The questions merge and some answers fall: can the Chinese squad be crowned French champion of LAM? No. Can she go to League B if her ranking requires it? No. Can she make the championship playoffs if she finishes in the top eight? The issue was not decided on Monday night, but a majority of leaders now appear to be in favor of it. “How the Chinese squad refuse to participate in the most important tournament of the season when it deserves to finish in the top eight?” insists the staffer who even thinks the Chinese team can even aim for the Top 4 of the championship. “On the other hand, what to say to a French club that will be the turkey of the farce by finishing ninth,” laments another.
In a championship that originally consisted of 14 clubs, the participation of the Chinese squad, the 15th team, then forces a reform 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 chairman of RMC Sport.
AS Cannes case… finally figured out?
Then a new team appears in this project: AS Cannes, which relegated sportingly at the end of the season. According to the LNV regulations, only the club that is relegated to Liga B can be called up. So AS Cannes. This historic French volleyball club, champions of France 2021, sank to the bottom floor after a season in hell marked by injuries, recruiting mistakes and ultimately a final place in the playdowns. The case becomes comical when we consider that the Riviera club filed against the LNV during the winter transfer period for a controversial recruitment case. The League approved the Riviera club by deducting points and ordering it to stop playing 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 … and thus eventually move to Ligue B.
If relations between the LNV and Cannes have been stormy, the League has nevertheless asked the Riviera club to prepare a budget to play in … League A, according to our information. Governing is foreseen and the LNV thus prepared for the possible arrival of the Chinese team in LAM, to guard against an administrative raid on elite clubs, targeted by the DNACG, the financial police officer of volleyball. Today, AS Cannes’ new two-man management is ready for any eventuality and reaching out to the League: “It is still vague, insists a member of the Riviera club, but if there is the possibility of entering the League A “Our desire to succeed is real. We have sent the message to the professional bodies that the time of sporting and legal guerrilla warfare is over. It is behind us. We want to calm relations between Cannes and the League.” If the team looks sporty in place around new coach Jason Haldane, the Croisette club will be ready for financial adjustments with maintenance in Ligue A, when the budget was initially made up for the lower tier.
The Riviera club is ready, the regulations are favorable… but Monday night, during the video, the idea of keeping AS Cannes was not unanimous among the club presidents. And that’s an understatement. “Faced with Cannes’ shortcomings over the past season, some club presidents wanted to promote the finalist in the Ligue B play-offs instead,” said a LAM boss. “Of course the Mediterranean club has made a mistake, but the rules are clear, insists another RMC Sport manager. So if there is maintenance, it can only be AS Cannes. It goes beyond hostilities and ego fights.”
China is looking for a city and a room
If there are still open questions that the LNV should raise with all club presidents who now want to make a decision quickly, the Chinese selection is actively looking for a residential city and a hall. According to information from RMC Sport, China is aiming for an agglomeration with an airport and a hall with 2,500 to 3,000 seats to LNV standards (especially high ceiling and large screen). At the start of the week, Paris City Hall had not received a request from the Chinese squad for training slots and a space to evolve into LAM. At Paris Volley, the idea of sharing Charpy’s room seems unrealistic, with the training sessions of the resident professional club and that of its affiliated amateur club, the PUC, not to mention the sports hours of the surrounding schools.
On 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 supervising ministry. The meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, to conclude the three most incredible days of French volleyball.