Softball and baseball united as WBSC Europe

Tue 13 Feb 2018

Softball Europe (formerly the European Softball Federation) and Baseball Europe (formerly the Confederation of European Baseball) held their annual Congresses on 8-10 February at Disneyland Europe, and formally merged into a single organisation: WBSC Europe.

The merger is part of a major push by the World Baseball Softball Confederation to ensure that the two sports are united and operating under the same philosophy around the world, and this was the chance for Europe to fall into line.

Before the WBSC Europe Congress that ended three days of meetings, softball and baseball held separate Commissions and plenary sessions.  BSF President Jenny Fromer attended the Softball Europe meetings on behalf of British softball.  Mike Jennings, another member of the BSF Executive, was there in his role as Softball Europe’s Technical Director.

Here is Jenny’s account of the meetings:

Four days at Disneyland Europe might sound like fun, but the reality was a snow-covered hotel in the middle of nowhere with fairly complex conditions for accessing food and drink.

For me, it was an opportunity to put more faces to names, return to conversations started in Botswana at the WBSC Congress last October, and to make new connections.

Day One

Day One, as ever, was taken up with Commission meetings.  These provide real opportunities for discussion and debate, at least on the Softball Europe side.  The Development Commission kicked off with a presentation from Francesca Fabretto from the WBSC and now Europe’s point of contact for, well, everything.  Francesca made a plug for WBSC development grants, suggesting that European applications would be very welcome provided that the WBSC were not to be the only funders of a given project.  To date there has been some scepticism around the likelihood of success from this route, but it feels like something we should attempt.

The other point of interest in this session was Craig Montvidas’s presentation on ESCA (the European Softball Coaches Association), and particularly the second ESCA Camp planned for later this year.  The Year One camp included players from GB’s High Performance Academy, and the video alone made this look like something we should be all over.  Yes, that’s what the video is designed to do, but this really looks like something special, and a rare opportunity for high-level instruction and true European connections.

Development was followed by the Technical Commission, where the main order of business was the planned re-formatting of the European Women’s Championship.  We had done our homework on this and came armed with questions and feedback on the various permutations.  However, much of the time was consumed by a debate about whether fewer opportunities for lower-ranked teams to play top teams was good for profile or bad for development.  There was also a counter-proposal from Greece to consider.  The upshot was that the Technical Commission has work and consultation to do before plans for 2019 can be finalised.

ESF President Gabriel Waage talked to the meeting about the issues to be considered following the WBSC’s decision to move its World Championships – soon to be called World Cups – to different years to take account of the Olympics.  The knock-on effect is considerable, and leads to a clear choice between Europe staging back-to-back European Championships or creating three-year breaks.  Again, this is far from decided, and input is clearly welcome. As a country that can very much straddle the line between success and development, we should be proactive in feeding into this.

The day concluded with a Presidents’ Meeting led by Gabriel Waage and Baseball Europe President Didier Seminet to lay the groundwork for Saturday’s joint Congress by affirming the proposed statutes and the move from separate Regional Federations to a single WBSC Europe.  Both spoke of their pride and happiness at co-operatively reaching this point, flanked by WBSC Directors to accentuate the message.  The fact that the statutes really only address the time between now and 2021 when the merger is fully actualised was referenced, but not really addressed, except to promise that the final, “hopefully perfect” statutes would be presented at the 2019 Congress.

Day Two

Day Two was the day of formal Congresses – first Softball Europe, then Baseball Europe and then WBSC Europe.  As usual, the Congresses were fairly perfunctory affairs, punctuated by presentations and awards.  There were only two items in that required a show of hands: the receipt of accounts at the Softball Europe Congress, and, in the final WBSC Europe session, the new statutes.  There was no sense of the latter being anything other than a fait accompli, and clearly no expectation of discussion.

Given that any discussion about the merger is clearly over, and that everyone’s message was about unity and a better future, it was a strange note when WBSC Treasurer Angelo Vincini took a few moments to reference Europe’s defeats at the WBSC Congress in Botswana, and to imply that the merger may now put Europe back in favour.  There was a further ominous implication that any failure at the Olympic level may lie with Europe not immediately falling into line.

The Congress closed with a presentation of Baseball5, WBSC’s new street game designed to more easily introduce baseball – and softball – to a new audience.  Questions raised in Botswana about why this is called “Baseball5” when it is designed to be a tool for both sports had been dismissed.  There’s no question, however, that the game itself, to be played on any square space, looked pretty cool.  That said, given that the USP is its simplicity, a number of us reacted to the incredibly complex set of instructions and measurements included in the promo video.

From a British softball point of view, I would say that my time at the Congresses was well spent.  We already have an important European presence with Mike Jennings’s role as Softball Europe Technical Director, and I was afforded the opportunity to have a number of meaningful conversations, including an hour with Francesca Fabretto and early conversations with Colum Lavery of Ireland and John Boyd from BSUK about a possible GB v Ireland event this summer.

However, the key to any of this being meaningful is in the follow-up to come.

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