New President takes over at ESF Congress

Thu 9 Feb 2017

The 2017 ESF Congress was held in Belgrade, Serbia from 2-5 February, and a new ESF President – Gabriel Waage from the Czech Republic -- was elected along with other members of the ESF Executive.

The ESF Congress was held in conjunction with the annual Congress of the Confederation of European Baseball (CEB), and representatives from the World Baseball and Softball Confederation were present to talk to delegates from both sports on a variety of topics at a time when softball and baseball are returning to the Olympic Games in Tokyo – and hope to stay on the programme beyond 2020.

A number of ESF Commissions met on Friday, 3 February and a plenary session took place on Saturday.  Some of the main outcomes from these sessions are reported below.

Dates and venues for ESF competitions in 2017 and some in 2018 were finalised, and draws were made to establish the make-up of first round pools for the European Women’s Championship and the European Cadette (Under-16) Girls’ Championship (see http://www.britishsoftball.org/news/view/esf-congress-draws-are-kind-to-gb-teams).

Funding opportunities from the EU, the WBSC and Little League were discussed, and information presented about the work of the ESF’s new coaching organisation, the European Softball Coaches Association (ESCA).

During the plenary session, an announcement was made that the British Softball Federation had been awarded the title of Little League European Federation of the Year.

BSF President Stella Ackrell attended the Congress on behalf of the BSF; BSUK Joint CEO Jenny Fromer attended as an observer; and BSF General Officer Mike Jennings was present as the ESF’s Technical Director.


Elections​

Gabriel Waage, who has been the ESF Competitions Director for a number of years, was elected as President to replace Andre van Overbeek from the Netherlands, who had completed the permitted maximum of two four-year terms.

Others elected to the ESF Executive were a mixture of old and new faces, but two new women members have joined the Executive Council, giving the organisation three male and three female Vice Presidents – though the top jobs of President, Secretary General and Treasurer are all held by men.

Great Britain’s Mike Jennings, who has been serving as the ESF’s Technical Director, has now been appointed to the full role of Director of Competitions and Technical Director, though he will not be a member of the Executive Council.

John Austin from Ireland continues on the Executive Council with responsibility for slowpitch development.

The newly-elected ESF Executive  Council is as follows:

President:  Gabriel Waage (CZ)
Secretary General:  Ami Baran (ISR)
Treasurer:  Eddy van Straelen (BEL)

Executive Council/Vice Presidents:
Youri Alkalay (BUL): 1st Vice President
Petra Arends (NED)
John Austin (IRE)
Daniella Castellani (ITA)
Mette Nissen-Jakobsen (DEN)
Kristian Palvia (SWE)


Gabriel Waage​

The new ESF President, Gabriel Waage, was born 1967 in the Czech Republic and has been involved with the ESF since 2004, starting off as Vice President in charge of Development and later becoming Vice President in charge of Competitions.  He has been the ESF’s 1st Vice President for the past four years.

Waage sees his biggest contribution to European softball so far as his work with competitions.  “We’ve been able to stabilise the situation around the competitions that we organise,” he said.  “In 2011 we started obligatory live scoring from all ESF events, and that was the moment that advanced softball in Europe from provincial localism to globalisation.  We then added live streaming.
“The establishment of the position of ESF Communications Director was another step that has changed the overall approach to softball,” Waage added, “as a sport where we want to increase visibility.”

Apart from his ESF activity, Gabriel Waage is a member of the WBSC Competitions Commission and been a member of the Czech Softball Association Executive Council since its foundation in 1993 and President of Czech Softball since 2002.
As the ESF President, Waage wants to focus on the marketing and promotion of the sport.  “I want the ESF to become a strong brand that everyone wants to be part of,” Waage said.

“The ESF is here for the National Federations, and we always want to be easily approachable and ready to assist with whatever the Federations may need.  The ESF has recently kicked off a number of promising projects, and I think the time is right to think about boosting our development with a full-time executive position.  The establishment of such a position would help maintain and speed up progress in these projects.”


Commissions​

Friday 3 February was given over to meetings of the ESF’s various Commissions.


Here are some of the key points from the meeting of the Development Commission:

  • The ESF is looking for additional volunteers to help with slowpitch development.
     
  • Ron Radigonda from the WBSC Softball Division spoke about the work of the WBSC’s Joint Development Committee and noted additional development work being planned for softball, with starter kits available through the ESF or WBSC.  He also mentioned that Major League Baseball has appointed the former Team USA star Jennie Finch as its ambassador for softball.
     
  • Petra Cizmic Pokrajac spoke on the Inter-League competition project that began in 2014 in Eastern Europe and has now grown to eight women’s fastpitch teams from five countries -- Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic – who cross borders each summer for league competition.  Petra encouraged other areas of Europe to consider this model.  A host country only needs to provide a venue, because the ESF will cover the cost of balls and umpires.  A men's bracket may be added to the project this year, and the ESF is exploring the possibility of EU funding support.
     
  • Petra then went on to talk about the Inclusion and Gender Equality through Softball programme (IGETS) and the EU’s Erasmus + Softball project, focused on increasing the number of girls participating in sport.
     
  • Former Dutch and GB Head Coach Craig Montvidas has been appointed as the Director of the ESF’s new Coaching Association, ESCA, and told those present at the session that coaching is the key to developing softball.  ESCA’s goal is to help countries develop coaches, and the Association will tailor bespoke projects to do this.  ESCA is currently building a register of European coaches and is looking at working with the European Baseball Coaches Association, EBCA.  Future projects include a European Coaches Certification Programme.
     
  • Craig Cress from USA Softball talked about American support for regular development events in Europe, such as the recent BSUK Coach Summit.  USA Softball will also focus on holding more US-based clinics that European coaches can attend, with accommodation provided free of charge, and the organisation is looking at bringing back an Under-16 World Cup event for girls to demonstrate the talent pipeline in relation to Tokyo 2020.  Great Britain sent teams to this event when it was held in Florida in 2001 and 2005.
     
  • Finally, John Austin gave a slowpitch development update.  Last year’s ESF Slowpitch Super Cup in Austria had a record entry of 14 teams (GB teams won gold and silver), and John reported that an increasing number of European Federations are contacting him about slowpitch.  There were three European teams at last November’s Slowpitch World Cup in Florida, and the ESF helped bring Team USA Slowpitch Head Coach Steve Shortland to Europe for clinics at the BSUK Coach Summit and elsewhere.
     


At the meeting of the Marketing Commission, ESF Communications Director Helena Novotna spoke about:

  • The ESF’s increasing use of social media.
     
  • The success of the ESF’s increased programme of live streaming from a wider range of tournaments.
     
  • Cooperation with the WBSC to offer European media support at the Women’s World Championship in Canada last year.
     
  • Special help that she had received in her role, from Britain’s Bob Fromer and Mike Jennings among others.
     
  • The need for more photographers for ESF events (credits are provided, but not fees).
     
  • The need for Federations to be more responsive in terms of communications, and to share any press releases with the ESF.
     

Helena told the Commission that the ESF is working on a four-year media plan and is looking at more investment in live streaming.  Meanwhile a new logo and branding guide for the ESF will be issued shortly.


The Technical and Competitions Committee met on Friday afternoon, and a number of items were discussed:

  • The possibilities for more cross-border league competition.  While this has clearly been successful in parts of Europe, it is more problematic for Britain, because we face the costs of crossing the Channel to get to Europe rather than just driving to a nearby country.
     
  • Ireland suggested that field dimensions should be suitable when Federations bid to host European slowpitch events and that minimum standards should be set for bids (some European slowpitch events have involved special ground rules for short fences in right field).  ESF Technical Director Mike Jennings recognised the issue, but pointed out that a short field was still preferable to no host.
     
  • There was a discussion about ESF rankings, and whether these should take world rankings into account.  The importance of countries participating in European competitions to help build ranking points was emphasised.  Laurie Gouthro, WBSC Director of Competitions, said that from 2017, world rankings would take recognised regional competitions such as ESF Championships into account.  She emphasised that in softball, World Championship standings would not be the only measure of the top teams in the world.
     
  • Dates and venues for competitions were discussed and competing bids were voted on.  The ESF has now published a list of its competitions, dates and venues for 2017, and those in which British teams are taking part can be found on the BSF website Events List (http://www.britishsoftball.org/events).  The ESF has also published a list of entries to all its competitions, but this may change because teams can withdraw without penalty before 1 March and two competitions have April entry deadlines.
     
  • Discussions were held concerning the ESF’s Massimo Romeo Youth Trophy (EMRYT) tournament for Under-13 players, which last year allowed boys to play for the first time.   Boys will be allowed to play again this year, with a limit of three boys on the field at any one time and with the provision that boys cannot pitch or catch.  A softer ball will be used when boys are playing unless both teams agree otherwise.  On the basis of this information, a decision will need to be made by the coaching staff of the GB Under-13 programme, which is currently for girls only, on whether to enter the EMRYT this year.

     

A number of technical issues were discussed, including:

  • Entry dates for what the ESF calls “development tournaments” will be 15 April.
     
  • Application forms for ESF player licences by teams that have entered ESF tournaments are now due 21 days before the competition (this was previously 45 days).
     
  • ESF regulations on provisions for press and other media have been updated, but will still depend on available resources.
     
  • An ESF fastpitch umpire clinic will be held in Prague at the end of May and a slowpitch umpire clinic at the Windmill Classic tournament in the Netherlands at the end of June.


World Baseball Softball Confederation​

Officials from the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) contributed to Congress discussions at various stages.

WBSC Director of Competitions Laurie Gouthro clarified that teams will need to qualify for the 2018 Women’s World Championship in Japan, following last year’s Women’s World Championship in Canada, which was an open tournament in which 30 teams competed.  Only three places in the 16-team 2018 Championship will be available for Europe, so the GB Women’s Team will need to win a medal at this summer’s Europeans to make it to Japan.

Laurie emphasised the importance for the WBSC of raising the quality of teams taking part in the Women’s World Championship – and also raising the number of teams taking part in the annual Slowpitch World Cup.

At the WBSC Congress in October 2017, bids will be sought to host World Championship and Cup competitions in 2020 and 2021.

WBSC Director of Development Angelo Vicini talked about the need for baseball and softball to remain on the Olympic programme beyond 2020, which could only happen if our sports are seen as global in nature and capable of engaging a young audience.  To achieve this, the WBSC will focus on developing and promoting both sports in areas considered essential by the International Olympic Committee and prioritising countries with the greatest needs.

To this end, the WBSC has set up a programme that can provide development funding to national federations in both sports, though these will need to be match-funded.  The WBSC will also be running programmes around the world to support athletes, coaches, knowledge-sharing, the promotion of Olympic values and special projects, and the organisation will create a pool of coaches/instructors that can be assigned to countries for short or long periods of time.


Plenary session​

Highlights from the plenary session of the ESF Congress on Saturday 4 February were:

  • An announcement was made by WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari and WBSC Softball Division President Dale McMann that the qualification routes to the 2020 Olympics for softball would be announced by the end of February 2017.
     
  • There was a well-received presentation by BSUK Joint CEO John Boyd on the “Hit the Pitch” model employed in the UK to grow participation.
     
  • Dan Velte, Director of League Development for Little League, presented on grants available through the organisation – and the award of the Little League European Federation of the Year to the BSF.
     
  • An Irish proposal to add Independent Directors to the ESF Executive was withdrawn because it had been written incorrectly.
     
  • A proposal from the ESF Executive to create a new provisional member status for non-financial Federation was accepted.
     
  • ESF accounts for 2016 and the budget for 2017 were approved, and the organisation’s auditor re-appointed.
     

The 2018 ESF Congress has been awarded to Paris.

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