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Volleyball fears final drop catch

Volleyball, one of Britain's fastest-growing school sports, faces marginalisation when the Sports Council announces a "priority" list of 24 activities next month.

This decision follows recommendations in the Government paper Raising the Game, published last July, and designed to strengthen the playing of traditional team games in schools and clubs. It is a departure from the "sport for all" policy.

It is understood that football, rugby, hockey and netball are prioritised but sports such as volleyball and rowing are not on the list.

The decision to prioritise -which will allow the Sports Council to concentrate resources on a limited number of sports - is highly controversial and likely to be bitterly contested by those excluded.

It remains unclear which other sports will be affected when the list is announced on May 8.

But supporters of volleyball fear its exclusion will arrest the growth of the sport, which has doubled its junior membership in the past year and has a world-class national team.

Paul Westhead, president of the Volleyball International Commission, said he was very disappointed. "We always have to compete against English traditional sports. And there is a problem when our Sports Council doesn't understand volleyball is a sport popular all over the world."

He added that volleyball had many advantages over other school sports. It is cheap, appeals to all abilities and can be played as a mixed game.

Len Almond, lecturer in physical education at the University of Loughborough, said: "Volleyball has really tried to develop at grass-roots level and in schools. People have worked very hard and made tremendous progress.

"It's wrong for it to be marginalised and singled out."

Steve Colpus, who coaches London-based Britannia Music City, one of the most successful women's volleyball teams in the country, said it was essential that talent was groomed in schools.

"We can't provide younger players with enough experience. The ideal would be to have three or four feeder schools to develop the players."

The list is certain to be a setback for the national game, which has few sponsors despite having two representatives in this summer's Olympics.

Raising the Game was launched with the personal backing of the Prime Minister, to promote team games such as hockey, netball, cricket, rugby, tennis, table tennis and basketball. A Pounds 14 million initiative to encourage primary school children to take part in these sports - the National Junior Sports Programme - was announced last month.

A Sports Council spokeswoman defended its decision to leave out volleyball, saying that sports which had made the top 24 were considered to have the greatest development potential.

She added: "We can't prioritise all sports. A number have been selected but that might change in the future. All the other 120 sports still get financial support."

The Amateur Rowing Association and the English Volleyball Association declined to comment on the list before it is published.

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