GB women's indoor volleyball team return to Sheffield

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter

A new deal means Great Britain's women's indoor volleyball teamexternal-link will return to the UK until the 2012 Olympics.

Last year, their centralised programme was under threat after the sport lost its public funding - forcing players to find club contracts on the continent.

However, they will now return to their Sheffield base as the result of a collaborative effort between the city's council, Sheffield Hallam University and Claremont Hospital.

The players will be provided with free accommodation, training facilities and medical support until the 2012 Games.

"It is such a great city with great facilities and we're thrilled the team can stay and train here," said GB women's head coach Audrey Cooper.

"This will give us the very best chance of success at London 2012."

"We were determined to do everything in our power to keep the GB women's team in Sheffield and I am very happy that we have been successful," said councillor Helen Mirfin-Boukouris.

British Volleyball president Richard Callicott praised the project.

"The simple truth is that we are indebted to the city of Sheffield for their belief in the team," he commented.

"I'm so grateful to the politicians and the officers who have made this possible because if it wasn't for them, we would be in a really bad place."

Following the withdrawal of public funding, the GB women's indoorexternal-link programme was in danger of closing down but the majority of the team were able to secure paid professional contracts around Europe.

They were given a further boost in December last year when the British Olympic Associationexternal-link (BOA) confirmed that they would be allowed to compete in the London 2012 Games.

Improved performances and their attempts to raise funds through sponsored events were said to have impressed the BOA.

Combined with money raised through endorsements, GB were able to generate the finance needed to travel to Peru in May, which provided them with vital international practice.

"For us, it was an opportunity to play quality opposition from South America and Asia, which are two areas likely to be strongly represented at the Olympics next year," stated Cooper.

GB's women's indoor team played four matches in the Latina Cup, winning two (against Chile) and losing to Thailand and the hosts (Peru).

"From my perspective as a coach, it has shown me what we are capable of doing and that we're capable of beating these teams come the Olympics, so all in all, a very successful tournament," Cooper reflected.

Women's captain Lynne Beattieexternal-link added: "These teams were all ranked within the top 20 in the world, so they were tough opposition but we wanted to do well and in the bronze-medal match we beat Chile 15-11 and that was a massive confidence boost for the girls."

The team return to the UK this week and, along with the GB men's indoor teamexternal-link, will play two further matchesexternal-link at the Ponds Forge venue in Sheffield on Friday and Saturday.

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