Volleyball on the Upswing
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – More than basketball or football, volleyball enjoys the widest participation of any sport at the grassroots level in the country. So when record crowds began to show up for volleyball matches in the UAAP, NCAA, Shakey’s V-League and Philippine SuperLiga over the last two years, it wasn’t difficult to explain why.

There’s no secret behind the upswing of volleyball. Simply put, playing it is fun and watching it is exciting. And with a strong foundation of players and enthusiasts at the ground level, it was inevitable that volleyball would rise to a position of prominence in the sports hierarchy. The emergence of female icons has also given the sport a shot in the arm and the formation of the Larong Volleyball Sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI) this year as the National Sports Association duly recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) and Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) has cleared the way for a focused approach to growth.

“Sustainability is always a problem for all sports,” said LVPI president and POC first vice president Joey Romasanta. “But volleyball’s popularity is no flash in the pan. We’ll properly manage and sustain it. Otherwise, what a waste of everyone’s efforts to bring it to where it is now. From the start, it was the POC’s mandate to help organize the affairs of volleyball. Now it’s up to the stakeholders to preserve what has been started and to determine how to sustain it. We’re very excited to achieve our goals at LVPI. We’re coordinating the schedules of our leagues, restudying formats, considering offers for international hosting, stepping up our overseas participation, improving the competitiveness of our national teams and looking at player recruitment.”

With LVPI at the helm, the Philippines returned to men’s and women’s volleyball at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore this year after sitting out the last four editions. Manila also reappeared as an active participant in AVC affairs by hosting the Asian U23 Women’s Championships where the Philippines finished seventh of 12 with 3-0 wins over Kazakhstan and Iran.  On Nov. 27-Dec. 4, Manila will host the “Spike For Peace” Indoor International Beach Volleyball Exhibition at the PhilSports Arena with the Philippines going up against 11 foreign teams from the US, Australia, Japan and European and other Asian countries.

“Back in the early 1990s, we hosted the Grand Prix but left a debt of $80,000 to FIVB and $10,000 to Thailand,” said Romasanta. “It was only this year when LVPI was established that the Philippines was back in good standing with the AVC and FIVB after settling all our previous obligations. To get the ball rolling, we participated in several international competitions – the Asian U23 Men’s Championships in Myanmar, the Asian Senior Women’s Championships in China, the Asian Men’s Club Championships in Taipei and the Asian Women’s Club Championships in Vietnam. Last June, we went back to the SEA Games after 10 years and Alyssa Valdes was even our flag-bearer during the athletes opening parade.”

Romasanta said hosting the Asian U23 Women’s Championships involving 11 teams was a learning experience that turned out to be a huge success. “We had our anxious moments at the start because we weren’t sure if we could raise the funds for the hosting but fortunately, the MVP Group and TV5 gave their all-out support,” he said. “We pulled it off and there were no complaints from the supervising technical officials. In fact, our hosting was rated excellent by the AVC and now we’ve received offers to host the World Women’s Club Championships, the World U19 Women’s Championships and the Asian Men’s Club Championships, all happening next year. But before we agree to anything, we’ll do a project study and get guarantees from a TV network and sponsors. Logistically, it won’t be difficult to host. Games can be played at the PhilSports Arena and we can offer practice venues to teams at Unilab, Meralco, Poveda and the San Juan Arena which are all close by. We are being guided by the AVC and FIVB and we’re doing our best.”

Romasanta, LVPI vice president Peter Cayco of the NCAA and LVPI secretary-general Ricky Palou of the Shakey’s V-League recently attended the AVC General Assembly in Riyadh to reassure the regional body of the country’s active participation. It was AVC honorary life president Wei Jizhong who instigated the formation of a new Philippine volleyball NSA that led to LVPI’s creation.

“The goal is to convert the popularity of volleyball into being competitive internationally, at least at the SEA Games level,” continued Romasanta. “In Thailand and Vietnam, their leagues stop playing a month before the SEA Games to get the best players on track for the national team and avoid burning out. We’re also upgrading the level of competence of our coaches. Jerry Yee and Benson Bocboc underwent a coaching course where they’re now at Level 3. Our women’s coach Roger Gorayeb is working well with our team consultant Anusorn Bundit of Thailand and our men’s coach Oliver Almadro is being exposed to training courses abroad.  Investing in our coaches is critical particularly in the men’s class because that’s where the challenge is – how to make the men’s game as popular as the women’s.”

At LVPI, the major leagues are represented in the Board with Cayco of the NCAA, Palou of the V-League, Ariel Paredes of SuperLiga and Rodrigo Roque of the UAAP. Others in the Board are Rep. Concoy Chaves as chairman, Choy Cojuangco as chief financial officer, Ramon Malinao as legal counsel, Jeff Tamayo as treasurer and Dr. Chippy Espiritu as managing director.

Palou said the promotion of the V-League and SuperLiga is spiking volleyball’s popularity. “Right now, there’s almost no difference between the two,” he said. “The V-League plays three conferences, including one with only collegiate players. The SuperLiga is basically a commercial league but is open to collegiate players after two years in the NCAA or UAAP. Some players are in teams with both leagues so it’s a little confusing to the public. Both leagues also allow imports. We’ll address these issues at the LVPI level.”

SuperLiga chairman Popoy Juico said the commercial feature provides collegiate players an avenue after graduation. SuperLiga was established two years ago and has organized three men’s tournaments and is now on its sixth women’s competition. What makes SuperLiga unique is the accessibility to the video challenge, a P2 Million innovation similar to the tennis challenge. The V-League, on the other hand, was set up in 2003 and has been a fixture in the sport. The Spiker’s Turf is the V-League’s competition for men. While the SuperLiga plays mainly at the Cuneta Astrodome, the V-League’s home is the San Juan Arena. Both enjoy support from TV networks.

“It was in the UAAP where the boom started with 20,000 fans watching the finals,” said Romasanta. “Now, the collegiate icons are playing in the V-League and SuperLiga so they’re bringing in fans from their schools. The V-League’s niche is the schools while the SuperLiga is patterned after the PBA. No doubt, volleyball is second only to basketball in popularity in the country. Nic Jorge’s BEST Center is expanding more and more into volleyball so the development is down to the provincial level which is very encouraging. We’re also promoting beach volleyball which is an Olympic event. Our beaches are our wealth so there’s no reason why we can’t excel

in this event where only two players are on each side. Beach volleyball will be a centerpiece event at the first World Beach Games in 2017. For volleyball, we need more icons like Alyssa, the Santiago sisters, Rachel Ann Daquis, Aby Marano and Denden Lazaro. After returning to the SEA Games from a long absence, now we know where we stand and what to do to get a podium finish next time. We’ll be better prepared in 2017 and the results will be different.”

Romasanta described volleyball’s popularity today as “phenomenal.” “Volleyball is a TV-friendly sport,” he said. “At LVPI, we intend to come up with a program where our leagues complement each other towards the common goal of making our national team competitive. We’ll reach out to the provinces as what the V-League and SuperLiga are doing. We’ll continue to upgrade the quality of our coaches, referees and of course, players. With positive indicators all around, we’re optimistic of the future of volleyball in the Philippines.”

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