CAVB must rethink African Clubs Championship format

KCB captain and coach present African title to CEO Paul Russo

KCB Women Volleyball Team Coach Japheth Munala (second right) and Captain Edith Wisa (right) hand over Africa Women Volleyball Clubs Championship Trophy to KCB Bank Group CEO Paul Russo (left) and Group Chairman Andrew Kairu at KCB Leadership Centre, Karen on June 3, 2022.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The men’s competition will be held from April 12 to 24, with the women’s event starting on April 24 through to May 5.

About two months from now, Africa will converge on Cairo for this year’s African Clubs Championships.

This is after the Confederation of African Volleyball (CAVB) recently awarded Egyptian giants Al Ahly the hosting rights for both the men's and women’s tournaments.

The men’s competition will be held from April 12 to 24, with the women’s event starting on April 24 through to May 5.

But we all know what will happen come April; a club from Tunisia or Egypt will emerge champion in the men’s category. A similar script will play out in the women’s category only that a Kenyan club could ruin the party for the two North African countries.

What about the awards ceremony? A big trophy will be presented to the winners, with the podium finishers getting glittering medals to signify the end of two weeks of competition.

Then what next? That’s just about it, as clubs will retreat to their local leagues and wait for next year’s edition.

Tradition is good, but sometimes a recipe for stagnation for African volleyball. It’s appalling that in 2024, CAVB still wants to stick to the old format of bringing together around 14 clubs at one destination to battle for the top prize of club volleyball in Africa.

It means that after playing six matches (three in the group stages, quarter-final, semi-final and final) you’re good enough to be declared the best of the best in Africa especially now that the winner gets the rare opportunity to represent Africa at this year’s FIVB World Club Championships.

Hybrid format

Does this format even give clubs from developing volleyball nations like Lesotho, Gambia, Botswana or even Mauritania a fair chance to feature in this competition?

Because let’s face it, if you don’t have the budget and means to survive in Cairo for two weeks, let alone the hefty competition and accommodation fees, can you take part in this competition?

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) have successfully run the top-tier inter-club competition, the Champions League, using a hybrid format that has helped the continental body attract many sponsors like TotalEnergies and gaming firm 1XBET.

The Caf Champions League starts with two qualification rounds whereby various league champions from all 54-member associations get an opportunity to qualify for the group stages where 16 clubs are drawn in four groups of four teams.

The group stage features a home-and-away format, with each club playing six matches.

The top two clubs from each group then qualify for the quarter-finals, played over two legs. The semi-finals and final are played over two legs to determine the champion, who then represents the continent at the Fifa Club World Cup.

Commercial opportunities

It’s important to note that the current prize money for the Caf Champions League is a whopping $4 million (Sh640 million)! While the money involved in football is definitely at a whole different level, it’s clear that spreading Africa’s premier volleyball inter-club competition to an entire season will come with more commercial opportunities for CAVB.

The African Clubs Championship, if well packaged as a tournament played over nine months during the regular October to May season, has the potential of attracting broadcast partners and title sponsors who will pump money into the event and make it more professional and appealing, as opposed to the current format.

Participating clubs usually spend a fortune to prepare for this competition and it’s only fair that the return matches the level of investment in this age when sports is considered big business.

Clubs invest heavily

A closer look into Al Ahly’s squad, for instance, will give you professional players like American Garrett Muagututia for the men’s team and Tatjana Bokan for the women’s side.

Muagututia brings a wealth of experience to Ahly having played professional volleyball in Italy, Poland, Spain, Indonesia, China, Greece, Finland and Portugal.

He has also represented the USA at the Olympic Games, FIVB World Cup, Volleyball Nations League (VNL) and FIVB World League. The 195cm outside hitter joins as a replacement for the injured Ahmed Said, who is sidelined with a knee injury, as Ahly look to reclaim the title they last won in 2022.

Like Muagututia, Bokan is also vastly travelled having played professional volleyball in France, Poland, Serbia, Italy, Germany, China and Japan. The 188cm outside hitter from Montenegro will lead Ahly’s pursuit for a record-extending 11th title.

Women champions Zamalek have also retained the Brazilian outside hitter Milca Lubieska da Silva in a bid to defend their title on home soil.

Signing and keeping these top players has cost Al Ahly and Zamalek an arm and a leg. Closer home, the budget of KCB and Kenya Pipeline Company women’s team for a season stretches into millions, given that they have national team regulars in their roster.

Best practice

It’s only fair that these clubs reap where they’ve sowed by getting commensurate prize money that will help them cover costs incurred by sustaining their teams for an entire season.

A new hybrid format for the African Clubs Championship will not only open up new avenues for CAVB to make money but will also promote inclusivity by allowing clubs from ‘small’ volleyball countries to participate through the qualifying rounds.

It’s high time this competition takes up a new format in line with best practices in other continental federations such as the CEV (Europe) and CSV (South America), which run their inter-club competitions throughout the season and not just for two weeks.

If anything, anybody can prepare to win six matches and easily become a champion of a two-week competition. But sustaining form and class over a whole season calls for something special, and that’s how an African champion ought to be crowned!  

Over to you CAVB President Hajij Bouchra and your executive!