By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
Manchester’s softball community believe dropping the sport from the Olympic Games was a big mistake, but remain determined to help the sport grow in Great Britain.
Softball and baseball were removed from the Olympic programme following the Beijing Games in 2008 for this year’s Olympics and Rio 2016.
The inclusion of golf and rugby sevens for the Rio Games takes the Olympics up to its maximum of 28 sports, meaning the earliest route back for dropped sports would be nomination for the 2020 Games.
Peter Jones, Manchester Softball League’s Technical Officer, has been involved in the sport for approximately eight years.
He said: “It seems a backwards step to drop the sport from the Games. I thought it would go on to do well at the Olympics.”
“I’m surprised they’ve dropped it – I see softball as a growing sport, especially here in Great Britain.”
The decision to drop the sport in home Olympic year comes as a double blow for Great Britain’s softball enthusiasts – the women’s team have achieved all time best results in recent years and had been confirmed a home nation allocation by the BOA prior to being axed.
Peter said: “In terms of participation and enjoyment, I would put softball above some of the current Olympic sports – I couldn’t sat which though, I haven’t got a hitlist!”
“I would however definitely support an attempt to get softball back on the Olympic programme.”
Bob Fromer holds many roles within the sport, among them Team Manager for the GB Women’s Fastpitch team – who would have been our Olympic representatives.
“The decision was a huge blow to softball around the world. Playing in the London Olympics would have produced a step change for the sport in terms of media coverage, public profile and funding,” he said.
“The net result would have been thousands of new players, especially women and girls. All that was lost when baseball and softball were dropped for 2012.”
Despite this massive blow to the sport, he is confident softball will continue to grow in Great Britain and globally.
“Softball has actually gone from strength to strength over the past few years. The GB Women's Fastpitch Team has come second and third in the last two European Championships and qualified for the last two World Championships, the best results in our history.”
As well as the women’s Olympic discipline team doing well, there have been pleasing results for the men and junior sides across both fast and slowpitch softball, the latter of which is played here in the MSL.
Peter believes the sport’s all-welcoming approach will help the sport continue to grow.
“Softball is a very accessible sport – we don’t have an upper age limit, though the youngest we accept is 14 for safety reasons,” he said.
“You run, throw and catch – within most people’s capabilities. Whatever you come to the sport for, we will find a place for you.”
Later this year,Manchesterwill host the Slowpitch National Championships for the first time. This is prior to a fully dedicated softball and baseball facility being funded by UK Sport in the 2013-2017 cycle.
Softball is one of relatively few sports that is increasing participation numbers and meeting UK Sport targets in this criteria. However, the extra coverage and funding afforded to Olympic sports is not allowing the sport to reach it’s full potential here.
Bob said: “Softball in Britainstill has a bright future. Our biggest issues are lack of funding for national team programmes and talent development and lack of public profile.”
“The result is that our national team players (and families) have to fund all the costs of competing for Britain, and GB Women players will be paying around £1500 each to play in World Championships this summer in Canada.”
Before the sport was dropped from the Olympic schedule, it had been contested in four successive Games from 1996 onwards. The USA proved the team to beat, claiming three of four gold medals available, although Japan won the last Olympic tournament in Beijing with the Americans second.
For more information on softball in Manchester and the MSL, visit www.manchestersoftball.co.uk