2021 Rewind: Volleyball Nations League

Looking back at some of the greatest moments from the VNL 2021

2021 saw the return of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) for a unique month-long edition in a secure bubble in Rimini, Italy, with the USA women’s and Brazil men’s national teams emerging victorious.

Today, the FIVB is looking back at some of the most memorable moments from the competition which brought international volleyball back to the fans after a year’s  break due to the pandemic.

Across the month, a total of 124 matches per gender were played involving 922 sets. That is an incredible 459 hours and three minutes of electrifying volleyball action for hundreds of millions of fans across the world.

The 32 participating teams (16 per gender) saw 572 players contest a total of 40,698 rallies (20,611 by the men and 20,087 by the women).

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was held without spectators - but these 40,698 rallies were viewed live by fans around the world over a total broadcast hours of 744. The aggregated digital watch time was 4.8 million hours.

Aggregated Engagements across the competition were 73,533,032 with a total Digital Reach of 512,026,143.

The Bubble

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the VNL 2021 was held in a secure bubble to ensure the health and well-being of all participants. Over the course of the one-month competition, a total of 1,347 people inside the bubble, including players, referees, officials and staff, underwent 10,170 COVID-19 tests with tests for everyone every four days.

Crowning the Champions

The USA women’s team successfully defended their 2018 and 2019 VNL titles with a 3-1 win over Brazil in the final.

They remain the exclusive winners of the prestigious trophy in the women’s event, and demonstrated their elite form just over a month before they would also be crowned Olympic champions for the first-time in history at Tokyo 2020. No doubt the Brazil women’s team will look to stop the USA’s three-in-a-row VNL title streak at next year’s edition.

The bronze medal went to Turkey who beat debut VNL final four team, Japan, to reach their second VNL podium finish after taking silver at the inaugural edition.

Meanwhile, in the men’s edition it was a story of firsts as both Brazil and Poland made their VNL final debuts. It was Brazil who eventually emerged victorious, overcoming Poland 3-1 to claim their first-ever VNL title.

Poland won their first-ever VNL men’s silver medal, adding to the bronze medal they won at the 2019 edition.

In the bronze-medal match, France claimed their second VNL podium finish, to go alongside their 2018 VNL silver, by defeating final four newcomers Slovenia. The France team were clearly coming into peak-form at the right time as the VNL 2021 bronze medallists then went on to win Olympic men’s volleyball gold at Tokyo 2020 for the first time.

Biggest Upsets

After dominating the first two editions of the VNL with victories over France in 2018 and the USA in 2019, Russia, the defending men’s champions, were knocked out in the round-robin phase of the competition.

And in the women’s edition, reigning Olympic champions China also did not make it past the round-robin phase. The team did, however, beat both eventual finalists, the USA and Brazil, during the preliminary rounds and China’s Zhang Changning also registered the highest score in one match of this year’s edition with 37 points against Belgium.

Championing Gender Equality

In addition to world-class volleyball action, the VNL 2021 saw the launch of the world’s first ‘Equal Jersey’ campaign – a special edition jersey featuring a player’s own name and that of a player of the opposite gender.

The jerseys were proudly worn by several players during the finals to highlight how the sport of volleyball, the players and the fans all strive to challenge the inequality which frequently exists between genders in the world of sport. Read more about Equal Jersey here.

What’s in store for 2022?

Fortunately for volleyball fans worldwide, the VNL 2022 will get underway in five months’ time on 31 May. And next year’s edition will feature a brand-new format to create even more opportunities for fans to witness electrifying volleyball action.

The new format of the competition, announced in August 2021, will see 16 men’s and 16 women’s teams competing in pools of eight teams during the pool phase. With the new format in place, each team will play 12 matches in their pools across three weeks of competition, consisting of four matches between the Tuesday and Sunday of each week.

The new competition format means that each gender plays on alternate weeks, allowing for a one-week gap between events. The total number of matches in the pool phase will be 96. Eight teams per gender will then move into the final knockout phase of the competition.