WBSC Europe Congress keys on Constitution

Tue 11 Feb 2020

The annual Joint Congress of the European Baseball and Softball Federations – now combined as WBSC Europe – was held in Vilnius, Lithuania from 6-9 February and was dominated by the issue of a new Constitution.

The issue arose because baseball and softball members of the WBSC Europe Board had spent two years discussing and devising a Constitution for the new organisation that was to have been presented and voted on at this year’s Congress – only to be urged to adopt a different draft Constitution received less than a week before the Congress began from the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the international governing body for the sports.

Apart from the questionable timing of this move, the problem with the WBSC draft Constitution was summarised at a special joint session on Friday 7 February by Dutch Baseball/Softball Federation Board Chair Mark Herbold, who told the meeting that the WBSC draft, while containing many good features, “gives far too much power to the WBSC and too little to WBSC Europe.”

While the issue of a new Constitution for WBSC Europe became a key focus at the Congress, there were many other Commission and plenary sessions held separately by WBSC Europe’s Softball Division (formerly the ESF, now Softball Europe) and Baseball Division (formerly CEB, now Baseball Europe), as well as joint sessions and social gatherings.

At the Softball Europe Congress plenary session on Saturday 8 February, former BSF Executive member Libby Moss, who has worked in many capacities for the ESF/Softball Europe over the years, including the demanding role of Licencing Officer, was one of four new members inducted into the Softball Europe Hall of Fame.

British Softball Federation Administrator Bob Fromer represented Great Britain at the Congress in place of BSF President Jenny Fromer, who was unable to go because of work commitments, and BSF General Officer Mike Jennings was there in his role as Softball Europe’s Competitions and Technical Director.

In the end, the question of a new Constitution was deferred to allow submissions from member countries, to be followed by negotiations between the WBSC and WBSC Europe that will result in a new agreed document.

In the meantime, at a WBSC Europe Congress session held on Saturday 8 February, one article of the Constitution was approved, defining the positions that will make up the WBSC Europe Board, so that elections can be set in motion before the next Congress in February 2021, when the revised Constitution will finally be approved in full.

Meanwhile, there were many other issues at the Congress that were of more immediate interest to the BSF and to BSF member teams and players.


Matters of British concern

Discussions and decisions that were of direct concern to British Softball mainly had to do with international competitions, and were as follows:

European Men’s Slowpitch Championship.  An Italian bid to host the second edition of the European Men’s Slowpitch Championship this year was accepted, and the tournament will take place in Colorno, near Parma in Italy, during the week beginning 15 June, though the number of playing days has yet to be determined.

European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup.  No bid had come forward before the Congress to host the 2020 European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup, which 16 teams (including three British teams) have entered, and no bid was made during the meeting of the Softball Europe (SE) Technical and Competitions Commission on Friday 7 February.  Nevertheless, the Softball Europe Executive is determined to find a solution so that the tournament can be held and has given itself until 14 February to find a bidder.

New Format for European Women’s Championship.  A new format for the European Women’s Championship, which will be held this year from 7-13 June in the Friuli region of Northeast Italy to qualify three teams for next year’s WBSC Women’s World Cup, was unveiled and explained at the Technical and Competitions Commission. 

The main new feature is that instead of all countries entering on an equal basis, the top eight teams from the previous edition of the tournament will be placed in two seeded “Super Round” pools at the start of the tournament, while the remaining entries – in this case 14 countries – will play in four round-robin pools with only the winners of those pools joining the “Super Round”.  Only “Super Round” teams can progress towards Championship playoffs and medal games.

The GB Women’s Team, as the third seed, has been drawn in Super Round Pool B along with the Netherlands, France and Greece, and they will be joined during the competition by the winners of Pools D and E.  Super Round Pool A consists of Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain and Ireland, and they will be joined by the winners of Pools C and F.

The lower round-robin pools were drawn as follows:

Pool C:  Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary
Pool D:  Israel, Croatia, Ukraine, Bulgaria
Pool E:  Poland, Austria, Lithuania
Pool F:  Russia, Belgium, Denmark

Restoration of Page Playoffs.  A motion put to the Congress by the BSF to restore the Page Playoff system at the end of European slowpitch competitions was at least partially successful. 

Softball Europe abandoned Page Playoffs a couple of years ago in favour of the WBSC system whereby the final four teams in a tournament, based on results to that point, simply play bronze and gold medal games to wrap up the competition.  Although the BSF motion was initially opposed by the SE Board, it was reconsidered based on the fact that GB and Ireland spoke for it during the Technical and Competitions Commission meeting and no one opposed it. 

The outcome is that the Page system will be re-adopted this year for the European Men’s Slowpitch Championship and the European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup, neither of which lead to WBSC competitions.  Whether it can also be adopted for next year’s European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship, which will be a Qualifier for a WBSC Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup, will need to be determined.

Slowpitch gaining ground.  During the meeting of the Softball Europe Development Commission, SE Secretary-General Ami Baran made special mention of the increase in the number of teams competing in the 2019 European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship, from a static six teams in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 to 11 last year, including first-time entries from the Netherlands and Italy.  The same point was made by Softball Europe President Gabriel at the Softball Europe Congress meeting the following day.

“Slowpitch is very important to us,” Baran declared, and announced that the SE Board is considering more promotion for the format in future, including more slowpitch clinics around the continent.

Long-term locations.  A proposal from the Softball Europe Board that two annual European competitions should be held at the same venue for the next three years to help them become established and expand was approved. 

The European Men’s Super Cup will be hosted by two clubs in Prague, Czech Republic, from now through 2022, and the new European Masters Cup for women’s and men’s over-35 fastpitch teams will be held in Saint Boi, near Barcelona in Spain, over the same period. 

The precedent for this has been set by the annual European Massimo Romeo Youth Trophy tournament for Under-13 fastpitch teams, which has been held since 2012 in Collecchio, Italy.

New age-group competitions.  If enough countries are interested, SE intends to introduce a new Under-11 mixed competition this year at the European Massimo Romeo Youth Trophy tournament.

Softball Europe may also schedule a European Under-12 Mixed Fastpitch Championship this year to qualify a team or teams for a WBSC Under-12 World Cup which is expected to be held in 2021.  But Softball Europe will retain the Massimo Romeo competition in its current form going forward for development purposes.

Roster change.  Although it’s not clear when this will take effect, the WBSC plans to reduce the number of players allowed on a fastpitch roster for continental competitions from 17 to 16 players.  Only 15 players are allowed on rosters for Olympic qualification tournaments and in the Olympics.

Player eligibility.  A special session for all softball and baseball delegates was scheduled during the afternoon on Friday 7 February to discuss the feeling among some European countries that the use of dual-nationality players in national teams and “ringers” and pick-up players in club teams has gotten out of hand and is distorting both European competitions and the development of European-based players.

While the discussion that was held will not lead to any changes for the 2020 season, WBSC Europe will form a Working Group to look more closely at the legal and sporting issues involved, including practice in other sports, and there are likely to be recommendations and possibly actions in future.

With European Cup competitions, the problem is that many of the club teams involved bring in players for the tournament, whether from Europe or elsewhere, who have not played for the club during their domestic season, and there could well be a ruling in future that players can only play for one European club in a given season.

The problem with dual-nationality players in national teams is more complicated, since these players are, by definition, passport-holders of the European country they play for and current Olympic and WBSC regulations place no restrictions on their selection.  However, other sports impose conditions on the selection of such athletes, including residency requirements, and/or a requirement that they play in domestic competitions and/or a waiting period after gaining passport eligibility, and it remains to be seen whether WBSC Europe goes down this road for its sports.


Other topics

Apart from the issues discussed above that will or may have an effect on British softball, many other topics were discussed during Commission sessions on 7 February and the Softball Europe Congress plenary session on 8 February.

Below is a run-down of key points from these sessions.


Finance Commission

Softball Europe Treasurer Eddy van Straelen reported an operating surplus of just under 4500 euros in 2019 – or rather in the 14-month period to 31 December 2019, because the organisation is adjusting its financial year to conform to that of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

About a sixth of Softball Europe’s total budget – over 22,000 euros – was spent on a range of development projects against a budgeted spend of 15,000 euros.  But this expenditure was covered in full by a grant from the WBSC, and the Softball Europe Board hopes and expects that support for development from the world governing body will continue.

Softball Europe income in 2019 was also boosted by tournament entry fees, as a record number of national and club teams entered European Championships and Cups, resulting in income that was 11,000 euros above the budgeted figure.  This trend looks set to continue in 2020, with the budgeted figure for tournament entry fees already exceeded.

Expenditure on web-streaming in 2019 was lower than budgeted because not enough countries hosting tournaments were prepared to share the costs.  But Softball Europe regards web-streaming as an essential element in building the profile of the sport in Europe and will be looking at ways that broadcasting can be expanded.


Development Commission

Part of Softball Europe’s development mission concerns coaching, and Secretary-General Ami Baran reported that the organisation had provided financial and other support to high-level clinics in Switzerland, Spain and Serbia over the past year, as well as supporting BaseballSoftballUK’s Coach Summit in Milton Keynes.

Meanwhile, Softball Europe helped send Croatian coaches to teach fastpitch in Norway and slowpitch coaches from the UK (Sara Vertigan and Liz Knight) to spread the slowpitch gospel in Denmark.

Softball Europe has also supported the five-day residential camp run each October in the Netherlands for the past three years for young female softball players and coaches under the aegis of the European Softball Coaches Association (ESCA).  However, attendance was down in 2019, and the Camp will now be run every other year, skipping 2020, possibly in different locations, and will be expected to be self-supporting.  An arrangement between Softball Europe and the National Fastpitch Coaching Association (NFCA) in the United States means that coaches who register with ESCA can now gain NFCA membership as well.

A key part of Softball Europe’s development work is supporting regional leagues and tournaments that allow club teams to play outside their domestic programmes.  The Baltic Open in Northern Europe and the Euroleague that runs across five European countries in Central Europe allow female fastpitch players to gain additional game time and experience, as does the annual Mike Stapleton Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic for young male fastpitch players.

Perhaps some kind of regional league could be started in North West Europe involving countries such as Ireland, GB, Belgium and France…?

Softball Europe is still able to import and distribute free equipment in Europe, though Ami Baran admitted that the equipment supplied doesn’t always match what’s needed.

Other development initiatives that Softball Europe supports range from Baseball for the Blind, a mixed sport for people with impaired vision that started in Italy and is beginning to spread around Europe, including the UK; and opportunities for European national teams to have productive winter training camps at discounted rates in Florida.

However, the biggest new development initiative around the world, promoted strongly by the WBSC, is Baseball5, a mixed five-on-five “street” version of the sport that is played without a bat or gloves.  The goal is to reach one billion people with this format over the next decade.  Baseball5 has already been accepted into the 2022 Youth Olympics and the first Senior Baseball5 European Championship will be held in Lithuania at the end of February 2020.  A European Championship for U-18 players will be held later this year as a Qualifier for next year’s WBSC Baseball5 Under-18 World Cup, which in turn will be a Qualifier for the Youth Olympics.

Whether the ultimate goal of the WBSC is that Baseball5 becomes the Olympic format, replacing men’s baseball and women’s softball, remains to be seen.  One theory is that Baseball5, with its limited demand on resources, might become an ever-present sport at the Olympics, with baseball and softball included only when requested by a host country.


Technical and Competitions Commission

Great Britain’s Mike Jennings chaired the Technical and Competitions Commission session and reported that Softball Europe staged 10 Championship and Cup tournaments in 2019, involving 135 teams and 522 games, attracting nearly 47,000 spectators.  Clearly, softball competition in Europe is growing!

Votes were taken to determine the location for two tournaments that had more than one bid, with Dupnitsa in Bulgaria winning the right to stage the 2020 European Women’s Cup and Saronno in Italy winning the right to stage the 2020 Women’s Cup-Winners Cup.

A late bid from Colorno, near Parma in Italy, to host the 2020 European Men’s Slowpitch Championship came as a relief to the GB Men’s Slowpitch Team, but the fact that the 2020 European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup is still without a host will worry the three British club teams involved.

Mike Jennings then devoted time to explaining the new format that Softball Europe is using for the European Women’s Championship this year, where the top eight teams from the previous competition start off in two “Super Round” pools and the remaining teams – in this case 14 countries – play in other pools for the right to join them.  The idea behind this system, explained in more detail above, is to eliminate the large number of mercy-rule games that usually take place in the first round of tournaments as traditionally formatted.  But some countries are disappointed that, with the new system, they will never get to play the top teams.

Other points to emerge from this Commission were:

• Delegates were reminded that European tournament organisers no longer have a responsibility to transport teams from accommodation to fields; transport is wholly a team responsibility.

  • This year, at all European competitions, umpires will be more stringent in ensuring that there is no more than 20 seconds between pitches and 60 seconds between innings, although clocks will not be used.
     
  • The use of ASA stickers to validate slowpitch bats will still be allowed in 2020, but after that, with a WBSC Slowpitch World Cup promised for 2021, only WBSC stickers will be accepted.
     
  • At a European level, softball will continue to resolve tied records in round-robin groups through runs conceded in games among the tied teams, rather than using the WBSC’s mathematical formula derived from baseball.
     
  • There was a request from the floor for Softball Europe to ensure that youth competitions were played no earlier than July so as not to conflict with school sessions and exams, which in many countries run through June.
     
  • As reported above, the motion submitted to the Commission by the BSF to restore Page Playoffs at the end of European slowpitch competitions was partially successful.
     
  • A motion from Ukraine stating that countries could not send teams to the European Women’s Championship unless they had teams playing in Under-18 and Under-15 Championships was deferred due to the special session on player eligibility described above.
     
  • Finally, with the ESF enjoying more and larger tournaments, there is clearly a need for more umpires.  Softball Europe hopes to hold more clinics in federations with few or no international umpires and has targeted having more than 100 umpires by the end of 2021.


Congress Plenary Session

Softball Europe’s formal Congress session was held on the afternoon of Saturday 8 February. 

With the discussion of Constitutional matters postponed, the Congress consisted largely of formal business and was over quickly, with the main items of interest being the draw to place teams in groups in different European Championships and the induction of four new members into the Softball Europe Hall of Fame, including Great Britain’s Libby Moss.

The Congress also noted, with sadness, the recent passing of Anton Kops from the Netherlands, a long-time member of the European softball family as a coach and administrator, who had been particularly supportive of the growth of slowpitch in Europe, and who had been the driving force behind the development of the Beeball youth format.  Anton had always been a very good friend to British softball.


Presidential address

In his address to the Congress, Softball Europe President Gabriel Waage chose the following points for emphasis:

  • Congratulations to Italy for winning the European place in the Tokyo Olympics last year, and best wishes for their success in Japan this summer.
     
  • The continuing growth of slowpitch in Europe was demonstrated last summer by the fact that entries to the European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship almost doubled.
     
  • It was wonderful that Softball Europe had finally gotten the concept of an annual Masters’ Tournament off the ground last year, giving former players the chance to compete again at international level.

The role of the Softball Europe Board, Waage said, was to grow the sport and create a range of options and opportunities for members, and he was happy that this was being achieved.

However, Waage admitted that he was less happy with decisions being imposed on Europe by the WBSC, including a decrease in the total number of teams (and thus of European teams) able to compete in various World Cup competitions, and the fact that the WBSC had sent through a new draft Constitution for WBSC Europe just days before the organisation was due to vote on its own version.

“I’m not sure,” Waage said, “that our voice is being heard.  We need to do the maximum for our sport with an open mind.”
 

New Communications Director

Another announcement made at Congress was that Helena Novotna, who has been the ESF/Softball Europe Communications Director since 2014, is taking up a new job as a reporter for Czech Sports Television.

Helena has worked wonders in transforming softball communication in Europe for the better over the past six years on a range of different platforms and she will be missed – though she still intends to help out at European tournaments and will continue playing slowpitch softball.

The new Communications Director will be Elda Ghilardi, who has worked with Helena over the past year.


Awards

Awards were presented at the Congress for Little League and PONY softball activity in Europe.

The Little League Annual Award (pictured above) went to the Netherlands for staging two Little League softball tournaments in 2019 and generally supporting Little League organisation.

PONY Softball now holds Under-16 and Under-14 women’s fastpitch tournaments in the Czech Republic each spring.  In 2019, the Under-16 tournament was won by the Netherlands and the Under-14 tournament by Russia, and trophies were presented to those countries.


Championship draws

Draws were made at the Softball Europe Congress session to place teams in pools for three fastpitch Championships this year: the European Women’s Championship, the European Men’s Championship and the European Under-15 Women’s Championship.

GB Teams have an interest in the first two events but sadly not the third, since the withdrawal of our Under-16 Team from last year’s European Championship means we cannot send a team to this year’s Under-15 event.

The draw for the European Women’s Championship, and how this affects the GB Women’s Team, is set out earlier in this article.

The draw for the European Men’s Championship placed the 12 countries that have entered in two pools:

POOL A
Czech Republic
GB
Belgium
Germany
Sweden
France

POOL  B
The Netherlands
Denmark
Israel
Croatia
Slovakia
Lithuania


Hall of Fame

The four new inductees to the Softball Europe Hall of Fame, all pictured below, were:

Jesper Panduro (Denmark):  Jesper pitched for the successful Danish Men’s Team programme for almost 20 years and also pitched for top men’s fastpitch clubs around the world.  These days, he is helping a host of young players in Danish softball.

Bob Kessler (Israel):  Bob was active for many years in Israeli softball and with the ESF/Softball Europe as a highly-competent umpire, Umpire-in-Chief and Tournament Controller.

Libby Moss (Great Britain):  As well as serving on the BSF Executive and as the Team Manager for the first GB Women’s Team programme that attempted Olympic qualification in 1999, Libby has been a member of the ESF Board and has functioned for many years as a Tournament Controller and as the official responsible for the system of European player licenses.

Rebecca Soumeru (The Netherlands):  ‘Becky’ Soumeru’s pitching career for the Dutch National Team began in 1998 and only ended with her retirement after last summer’s Olympic Qualifier.  Altogether, she had 135 caps for the Netherlands and played at the Olympics, World and European Championships and a host of other tournaments.  Not only was she a fierce and intelligent competitor, but one of the nicest and most helpful people you could ever meet.


WBSC Europe Congress

Two jam-packed days of meetings ended with a WBSC Europe Congress session late in the afternoon on Sunday 8 February – a meeting of all the baseball and softball delegates and officials present in Vilnius.

Although WBSC Europe only came into being a year ago, with an Interim Board and start-up money donated by the European Baseball and Softball Federations and by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, two activities of the fledgling organisation were mentioned:

  • WBSC Europe organised the first-ever European Super 6 Softball and Baseball Tournaments in the autumn of 2018 – and though it won’t be able able to re-create those tournaments this year, it hopes to bring them back in 2022.
     
  • The growth and development of the WBSC’s mixed Baseball5 format in Europe is in the hands of WBSC Europe, which, as mentioned, will be running the first European Senior Baseball5 Championship indoors in Vilnius from 28 February-1 March.  Sixteen countries have entered.

Starting in 2020, WBSC Europe will be funded through affiliation fees from European baseball and softball federations plus further grants from the WBSC, and the organisation plans to establish a Head Office in Vienna, Austria.

The final official act of the WBSC Europe Congress session was to declare that the 2021 Congress sessions will be held in Rome.

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