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Zhu Ting of China spikes the ball during the FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League game against Japan at the Coliseum in Hung Hom in June 2019. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Volleyball Nations League latest big sporting event to return to Hong Kong, with ‘full house’ expected

  • City will host tournament in June 2023, ending what will have been a four-year hiatus from the FIVB calendar amid the pandemic
  • ‘We are relieved we can finally bring back this mega sports event,’ says Hong Kong’s volleyball chief – ‘I expect a full house’

The FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) will return to Hong Kong in June as an “M” mark event after a four-year hiatus because of the pandemic.

The sport’s world governing body announced its 2023 schedule on Friday, with Hong Kong back on the calendar from June 13-18. Eight teams will feature in the round robin event at the Coliseum in Hung Hom, including China and world No 2 Italy, who are the defending champions.

“We submitted our bid for the VNL 2023 earlier this year. We know there are a number of cities who want to be one of the stops, and we’re so glad the FIVB put Hong Kong on their calendar again,” Volleyball Association of Hong Kong president Wilfred Ng Sau-kei said.

Hong Kong has a long history of hosting both preliminary rounds and the finals of the World Grand Prix, which was replaced by the VNL in 2018. But the 2020 edition was cancelled amid the pandemic, before the city lost its host status for the next two years because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“We are relieved we can finally bring back this mega sports event,” Ng, who is also the vice-president of the Major Sports Events Committee, added. “Hong Kong has a large group of Chinese volleyball fans who are eager to watch. I expect a full house like before.”

Zhu Ting tries to score against Japanese players Haruyo Shimamura and Mami Uchiseto at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League in Hong Kong’s Coliseum in Hung Hom. Photo: Felix Wong

The city last hosted the VNL in 2019, with a budget of around HK$20 million. China’s team – led by star spiker Zhu Ting – secured first place, and drew a large crowd of around 8,500 spectators.

Ng expects further relaxation of pandemic restrictions next year, including the “0+3” system of medical surveillance upon arrival of overseas players – and that a full crowd will be allowed to watch the action at the host venue.

“The FIVB knew Hong Kong’s situation and gave us the green light to proceed as the host even under ‘0+3’, but I’m confident after the Hong Kong Masters snooker we can also get the permission for players to train when they arrive here,” Ng said.

Ng remained tight-lipped about the budget for next year’s event, but said he figured it will be substantially more than last time out, after a rejig of the tournament’s format during the pandemic.

“Before, we only had four teams in the pool, and now we have eight teams,” Ng said. “The budget will be much larger than before, especially given the unknown factor of the pandemic.”

The Hong Kong Coliseum was packed for the 2022 Hong Kong Masters final in October. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

The fifth edition of the VNL will feature 16 teams, including 11 core teams and five challenger teams, with preliminary rounds running from May 30 to July 2 in 2023.

The top eight teams will advance to the final round, which takes place from July 12-16, and the host cities will be confirmed in December.

Hong Kong’s leg will include core teams Italy, world no 5 China, No 7 Türkiye, and No 11 the Netherlands, as well as challenger teams Canada, the Dominican Republic, Poland, and Bulgaria. The remaining teams, including heavyweights the United States, Brazil, and Serbia, will compete in the Brazil leg during the same week.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said during his annual policy address last month that the government intended to “enhance the Hong Kong ‘M’ Mark system to support the hosting of at least 10 major international sports events in Hong Kong annually”.

Hong Kong has already secured a number of other mega events for 2023, including the Hong Kong Marathon in February, the Rugby Sevens in April, the Hong Kong Tennis Open in October, and the Hong Kong Golf Open in November.

There will be another edition of the Hong Kong Marathon in October, with the event doubling up as the Asian Championships, while Fiba’s 3x3 Basketball World Tour will also come to the city in December 2023.

The Hong Kong Badminton Championships will be hosted in September, and the Hong Kong Squash Open – which returns later this month – will also be back.