Heather Bansley and Liz Maloney are beach volleyball's piranhas, as the Toronto twosome looks for prey in the last two world tournaments. They want to raise their standing on the Swatch World Tour from to 16th from 19th – a standing that will put them directly into the field for the 2012 London Olympics.
They can envision playing on the Horse Guard Parade ground near the door of British Prime Minister David Cameron. They'll make the calf-stressing jumps in the sand specially trucked in for the women's tournament, from July 28 to Aug. 8. They'll even abide the women's requisite skimpy swimwear of the sport.
But they draw the line, Bansley says, at being indebted to the national federation of Volleyball Canada for lending money to cover ticket expenses to get to qualifying events.
She said in an interview that she will turn down the national body's late offers to lend money to players while Volleyball Canada has tied up federal assistance for all beach volleyball players – called carding money – during its appeal of an arbitrator's decision to evaluate seven-year national team regular Rich VanHuizen.
"I've got zero dollars from Volleyball Canada this year," Bansley said in an interview. She said she and Maloney have spent about $25,000 each out of their own pockets in coaching expenses, to attend Olympic qualifying events, hotels and food in six months since getting a Sport Canada carding cheque. They're broke and turning to friends and the banks for borrowed money, she said. They reject a loan from the federation.
"They don't have to take the offer of an interest-free loan," said Mark Eckert, executive director of Volleyball Canada.
Ed Drakich, a former beach volleyball player at the 1996 Olympics and Volleyball Canada's high-performance director for the sport, said he could not give details of the appeal.
A Volleyball Canada source said the body held back funding of all carded beach volleyball players, because it was the way to make certain that the carding money of developmental players would be protected in any judgment – players such as former world junior champion Garret May, VanHuizen's playing partner. Developmental athletes playing with Canadian university teams get their school fees paid, the source said.
"They're not a white knight," Bansley said of Volleyball Canada. "I'm already in debt and they're offering to put us in more debt. I'd rather try to do it on my own. I don't want to owe Volleyball Canada any money. They need to do a better job of giving athletes travel support."
Bansley said the women made ends meet this season by coaching school teams and club teams, baby sitting and taking a retail job. They flew a coach to the Shanghai tour stop by using points on a customer loyalty card, Bansley said.
On Wednesday, Volleyball Canada said it would use its credit to purchase tickets for the remaining tournaments on the World Tour – three for men and two for women. The men start next week in Prague. Bansley and Maloney have Grand Slam events remaining in Moscow (June 6 to 12) and Rome (June 12 to 17) The women have a good chance to qualify for the Olympics by making the top-16 ranking. Canada's men's team of Martin Reader of Comox, B.C., and John Binstock of Toronto has a better chance of making the Olympic field by winning June's regional Continental Cup – which Reader won last year with a different partner – in Mazatlan, Mexico.
Reader says he probably will use the Volleyball Canada loan, but "the reality is our federation hasn't provided us any financial support in the most important year of our careers to date. I have been training for six years for this opportunity and I am a day from an essential flight towards making my Olympic dream ... and I haven't been able to purchase it."
Jane Roos, founder of the independent athlete fundraising body, Canadian Athletes Now, started an emergency appeal for the cash-strapped athletes. By Thursday afternoon the fund received pledges of almost $22,000.