Volleyball is an important sport in the UAE. It is played at universities and the national league enjoys widespread popularity. Beach volleyball is also increasingly important in a country which has become home to people from all around the world - a reason why the FIVB chose to establish a Beach Volleyball Development Centre in the UAE.
Speaking at the Development Centre's opening ceremony, former FIVB President Jizhong Wei said: "This is a great day for the FIVB and for beach volleyball. The UAE has taken the initiative to set up this Development Centre, which is the first of its kind, and I am convinced that it will be a big benchmark for the rest of the world."
Sporting events in the United Arab Emirates also set benchmarks for the rest of the world. When the Asian Volleyball Championships took place in Dubai in 2013, thousands of fans cheered on the champions from Iran, while the local team finished fourteenth. The UAE team have participated in continental championships eight times, with the best result an eighth-place finish in 2001.
United Arab Emirates Volleyball Association President Yousef Almulla wants to see improvement and has set an ambitious target: “We need to have the national team as our priority, so that there is continuity for the future. We do not want half-measures. We are focused and we want to leave a legacy so that the UAE will have a team that can be competitive, at least at an Asian level.”
Hosting the FIVB Volleyball Men's U23 World Championship will mark another step towards this goal. The tournament will unfold across venues used by volleyball clubs in Dubai: Al Nasr Club, Al Wasl Club, Al Shabab Club and Al Ahli Club, as well as the Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Sports Hall. The government authorities have granted their full support to the organisation of the event.
The home team also need to inspire their fans. They have been preparing for this major event for weeks and UAE coach Murad Sannoun hopes that a training camp and a series of matches in Serbia will boost his team’s chances of a strong showing. “The idea is to expose our youngsters to a different style, so they can improve technically,” explained Sannoun in a newspaper interview during the trip to Europe. “We are exposed to a different style of volleyball in the Gulf region. In Europe, Serbia are among the strongest teams. I am sure this will be a huge learning curve for these youngsters.”
Russia, Italy and Turkey will represent Europe, while the hosts, South Korea and Iran are the Asian nominees.
Egypt and Tunisia represent Africa, defending champions Brazil and Argentina will travel from South America, and Cuba and Mexico will be the teams from the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA).
“These teams are the best of the best in the world and it will be our challenge to ensure we are competitive at least. It will be a huge thing for us when we play at the World Championship. Our definite goal is to get better,” said Sannoun. It is clear that the United Arab Emirates want to be more than just the hosts of this major volleyball event.