Author: Nadir KHOSROVOGHLU
Volleyball has been popular in Azerbaijan since the mid-20th century. Our women's volleyball has achieved particularly great success. And it is no coincidence that the first volleyball player, a four-time Olympic medallist was a trainee of the Azerbaijani volleyball school Inna Ryskal.
The participation of 18-year-old Azerbaijani volleyball player Inna Ryskal in the 1962 World Cup as a member of the USSR national team attracted everyone's attention. The team received silver medals at that tournament. The award went down in history as the first success of a young Azerbaijani volleyball player in the international arena. Having been the main player of the first team, Ryskal participated in four Olympics and was one of the team leaders. With four Olympic medals, she set a historical record, which still remains unsurpassed and is associated with the Azerbaijani volleyball.
Along with Inna Ryskal, another Azerbaijani volleyball player twice became an Olympic medallist in the USSR national team - Vera Lantratova. We are proud that the USSR national team, which had a wide selection of high-class volleyball players, included two Azerbaijani athletes who made a significant contribution to the greatest achievements of the team.
In 1966 and 1972, the women's volleyball club Neftchi from Azerbaijan won the bronze medals of the USSR championship. In 1967, as the national team of Azerbaijan, it also won bronze medals in the USSR championship. In 1990, the team of the Baku Air Conditioning Plant won bronze medals in the USSR championship, and in 1991 it became the winner of the last USSR Cup. In 1993, the club, as a representative of independent Azerbaijan, participated in the European Championship. With a single loss in the final stage of the tournament, the club won a silver medal.
After a pause
After gaining independence in 1994, the Azerbaijani women's volleyball team took part in the World Championship in Brazil, where it became the ninth strongest team of the planet. Due to mistakes made when completing the documents, the Azerbaijani national team was disqualified by the International Volleyball Federation for three years. Unfortunately, Azerbaijani volleyball known for its extremely strong and promising volleyball players suffered irreparable losses: athletes Yelena Shabovta, Alla Hasanova, Alla Teterina, Victoria Ravva, Oksana Mammadyarova had to leave for Turkey, Russia and other countries. Such recognised coaches as Felix Mammadov, Faig Garayev, who played a big role in the development of local volleyball, also went to Turkey. Faig Garayev achieved especially great success, as he raised the Turkish national team to the elite of European volleyball.
Some time later, thanks to the initiative of the President of Azerbaijan and the head of the National Olympic Committee Ilham Aliyev, Faig Garayev and the volleyball players returned to Azerbaijan. Everyone hoped that this will revive the Azerbaijani volleyball. Every year we have championships between the men's and women's teams. And the national team adequately represents Azerbaijan at international competitions. Azerbaijan hosts AVF, European Confederation of Volleyball (CEV) and FIVB competitions. The women's team has participated in the final stage of world championships four times and the European Championships - nine times. Thanks to the conditions created for sports and athletes by the President of Azerbaijan, volleyball in Azerbaijan is entering a new stage of development. The women's team of Azerbaijan led by Faig Garayev has twice took the fourth place in European championships. VC Azerrail adequately defends the interests of Azerbaijan at European tournaments.
Over the years, sponsors has demonstrated interest in volleyball as well. The national championship of Azerbaijan is one of the high ranked competitions in Europe. The leading athletes of the planet, including world and European champions, compete in the super league of Azerbaijan. The Rabita team, created in 2004 won the club world championship and became the eight-time champion of Azerbaijan.
In the 2016 season, four teams represented Azerbaijan in European competition - Azerrail, Telecom and Lokomotiv in the Champions League, and Azeryol in the CEV Cup. The national women's team also competed in one of the Europe’s most respected competitions, the Europa League. In the group with the participation of the national teams of Spain, Montenegro and France, the Azerbaijani team won six victories. Then, after defeating the Greek team in the semifinals and the Slovak national team in the final stage of the tournament, Azerbaijani national team became the winner of the Europa League. In 2018, Azerrail women's team and the volleyball players of the Lokomotiv men's club participated in the Challenge Cup. Again, our clubs had to go through hard times in European competitions.
Double strike with hope
In recent years, volleyball clubs of Azerbaijan have experienced a period of stagnation. Unfortunately, sponsors do not show much interest in them anymore. After expensive legionnaires left Azerbaijan three years ago, local clubs stopped setting high bars for themselves. These are difficult times for one of the favourite kinds of sport in Azerbaijan. Last year, Azerbaijani clubs refused to participate in European competitions.
The same thing happened this year. The coronavirus pandemic that has swept the whole world has dealt a blow to domestic volleyball. After the introduction of lockdown in Azerbaijan, the National Volleyball Federation suspended championships among men's and women's teams and cancelled the results. Thus, there was no winner in the 2019/2020 season. This was followed by the confirmation of the refusal to represent Azerbaijan in the European competition in the 2020/2021 season. Azerrail, the only team that now represents Azerbaijan in Europe, announced that it will not participate in European competition. Initially, the club intended to participate in the Challenge Cup, but then considered it inappropriate in light of the COVID-19 restrictions. The representative of the club has already informed the European Volleyball Confederation about the decision. As a result, like last year, we will be outsiders of the international competition.
Azerbaijani fans are always waiting for news of the success of our volleyball players. After all, they themselves taught us to do this. The refusal of our clubs to participate in European competitions hinders the development of Azerbaijani volleyball. Interest in this sport is waning among the younger generation. At the same time, difficulties arise in achieving success in international competitions and among national teams. In 2021, the women's national team of the country should participate in the final stage of the European Championship, where 24 countries will be represented. If our clubs do not compete in European competitions, then our athletes will lose their international practice. In this case, one cannot expect success from the Azerbaijani national team.
We can only hope that in the near future our volleyball will regain its former glory.