World League Volleyball: Australian v Finland
Australian Volleyroos v Finland at the AIS Arena. Photo: Melissa Adams
Volleyball Australia wants to "build a Volleyroos franchise" in Canberra, but president Craig Carracher has warned the capital is in danger of losing the program to Queensland if federal government funding continues to drop.
The Volleyroos completed a mixed trip to Canberra when they suffered a shock loss to Finland at the AIS Arena on Sunday.
The Volleyroos won their first game in their world league history after an epic five-set battle on Saturday night.
But Finland got revenge on Sunday, fighting from behind to win another five-set contest 30-28, 19-25, 17-25, 25-21, 15-9.
The Volleyroos lost their way in the fourth and fifth sets, but are adamant their breakthrough win will provide a huge boost to the team's international ambitions.
The ACT government paid $35,000 to host Australia's return to the $8 million world league after a 15-year absence.
The Volleyroos have been based at the AIS for more than a decade, but a new federal government Winning Edge funding model and cuts to the Australian Sports Commission budget could force Volleyball Australia to explore commercial arrangements outside Canberra.
Carracher believes the University of Canberra could benefit from recruiting the Volleyroos because of the sport's appeal to potential Asian students.
There are initial plans to build a $25 million, nine-court indoor stadium at the university and Super Rugby team the ACT Brumbies moved into the new $16.5 million sports hub last week.
But Carracher said Queensland universities loomed as the front-runners for the Volleyroos' new base if Australian Sports Commission funding continues to change.
"We will build a Volleyroos franchise in Canberra, but it depends whether the AIS is the long-term home of the Volleyroos," Carracher said.
"I think the Volleyroos should remain here to continue what we've started. But there are states and locations who want our national team. We have a low profile in Australia, but we're Asian champions. If you're a university and you're the home of the Volleyroos, that's a powerful marketing tool to recruit students.
"The efficiency dividends are tearing Australian sport to shreds. If that continues we will have to look at a more commercial solution for the national team. We're happy in Canberra, but if there are any more efficiency dividends, as a businessman we'll take the team to where the money is.
"Volleyball is the second-biggest sport in Asia behind soccer ... we'll be in Canberra until [the Rio Olympic Games in 2016], but we've not promised we'll be here until ."
The Volleyroos are back in the world league for the first time since 1999 and will start a 35,000-kilometre journey to three countries in three weeks when they leave Canberra on Tuesday.
The Volleyroos will play in Finland next week before moving on to Canada and then flying to Adelaide for their clash against Belgium.
Carracher described the two-game series in Canberra as a "momentum changer" for the sport, with near-capacity crowds helping "win back the doubters" to grow volleyball.
The Volleyroos are ranked No. 14 in the world and almost 5000 fans watched their efforts against Finland.
Despite stumbling in the second match against Finland, Volleyroos skipper Aidan Zingel said the two-game Canberra trip was crucial to the team's development.
"It's a credit to Finland, they played great and consistent while we lost it towards the end," Zingel said.
"We learnt a lot and we'll take that on board moving forward. A lot of the younger guys gained some experience playing back here, it was spectacular to play in front of a home crowd."
The world league – the richest international volleyball tournament – will return to Australia at the end of June when they Volleyroos play Belgium in Adelaide and Canada in Sydney.
Sydney will also host the finals for the first time. The Volleyroos, who finished ninth at the London Olympics two years ago, will also play in the world championships in Poland in August and September.
AT A GLANCE
World league: FINLAND bt AUSTRALIAN VOLLEYROOS 30-28, 19-25, 17-25, 25-21, 15-9 at AIS Arena on Sunday.