The British Softball Federation held its 2023 AGM as a remote meeting on the afternoon of Saturday 25 February, and the attendance, which peaked at 79, and the 63 voting members present, may both have been the highest in BSF history.
All nine members of the BSF Executive attended the meeting, along with five BaseballSoftballUK staff members, two BSUK Board members (including Board Chair Phil Veasey) and British Baseball Federation (BBF) President Tom Thornhill.
The meeting, which may also have been the shortest-ever BSF AGM, lasted for just an hour and a quarter, with very few questions or comments from the floor as BSF President Ieuan Gale and other members of the BSF Executive ran through the agenda.
An indicative poll taken at the end of the meeting about whether members want to continue with remote AGMs as opposed to the in-person meetings that were held before the pandemic resulted in 54 votes for remote meetings, one vote to go back to in-person meetings and eight votes from people who had no preference. So remote AGMs look set to continue.
Many of the agenda items at the meeting referred to reports published in the BSF AGM Pack, including reports from President Ieuan Gale, Competitions Officer Liz Graham, Coaching Officer Michael Lott and Technical Officer Pete Saunders, plus an extensive National Teams report. There were no comments or questions on any of these reports, all of which can be read in the AGM Pack here.
There were also no questions or comments on the BSF Accounts for 2021-22 or the proposed BSF Budget for 2022-23, presented by BSF Treasurer Laura Burkhardt.
One question came from the floor in relation to the proposed 2023 BSF Team Affiliation Fees, which will rise by around five per cent across the various membership categories.
The question was why Scottish league teams affiliate at the lesser Associate Member rate rather than the full rate paid by league teams in England and Wales. The answer is two-fold: (1) geography means that Scottish teams and players have less opportunity to take part in tournaments and other softball events in England – and if they do attend, travel costs are high; and (2) funding given to BaseballSoftballUK by Sport England for development work cannot be spent on initiatives in Scotland (or Wales). However, Welsh teams and players do not face the same geographical and travel cost issues as their Scottish counterparts.
The longest sessions at the meeting were the presentation of BSF Annual Awards to eight deserving recipients, and a session presented by BSUK CEO John Boyd on the Agency’s purpose, development work and future initiatives.
There was also a moment taken during the meeting to remember three prominent members of the softball community who have passed away since the last AGM in February 2022: John Lehmann, Chris Moon and Emily Tomkins (née Clifford).
There were a number of matters at the AGM that required voting by those present and eligible to do so:
- The Minutes of the 2022 BSF AGM were approved with 60 votes for and 3 abstentions.
- The 2021-22 Accounts and the 2022-23 Budget were approved with 61 votes for and 2 abstentions.
- The 2023 BSF team affiliation fees were approved with 60 votes for and three abstentions. The new Affiliation Fees for 2023 can be found on the BSF website here.
Further votes were held on the election of Officers and on a number of proposals for changes to the BSF Articles of Association, and these will be discussed in more detail below.
Opening remarks. BSF President Ieuan Gale opened the meeting by saying that the 2022 season had been a great year for everyone to get fully back on the field after the pandemic and that the 2023 season should be even better.
World Class Performance Programme. With regard to the National Teams report, Gary Anderson from BSUK, who is Head of Performance for GB Female Fastpitch programmes, noted that the World Class Performance Programme that is now being built up around the GB Senior Women’s Team and the age group teams below it had received a huge vote of confidence earlier in February with a further increase in funding from UK Sport to help the Women’s Team compete in the WBSC World Cup Qualifying Stage Tournament this summer in Dublin.
Gary noted that the GB Women’s Team that won the silver medal at last summer’s European Women’s Championship was the youngest team at the tournament in terms of average age, which is ideal for building the team towards qualification for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.
Points from the BSF League Heads Forum. The BSF’s annual League Heads Forum meeting had been held remotely on the evening of Thursday 16 February, and two points arising from the meeting were brought to the AGM:
The BSF has followed the lead of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) in extending regulations for protective equipment that needs to be worn by all under-18 players taking part in youth or adult fastpitch or slowpitch play. The main changes are that players in both formats need to wear helmets with face grills when batting or baserunning, and that players in both formats at the positions of pitcher, first base and third base need to wear face masks and gum shields. The revised regulations for under-18 players can be found on the BSF website here.
At the recent WBSC Europe Congress, Britain made a successful bid to host the 2026 European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship, which should be a qualifier for the 2027 WBSC Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup. This is an important tournament for us to host, and a great chance to bring official European slowpitch competition to Farnham Park, the biggest and best slowpitch facility in Europe. But the challenge will be, over the next three years, to find the funding and volunteers necessary, and support will be needed from the full softball community.
Financial matters. In presenting the BSF Accounts for 2021-22 to the meeting, BSF Treasurer Laura Burkhardt noted that the BSF had budgeted for a £17,000 loss in that year but had only lost around £4,000 – mainly because more domestic teams returned after the pandemic than had been expected and because less money than planned had been spent on development and national teams.
In 2022-23, where a £9,000 loss is being planned, the intention is to provide more money for BSF Development Grants, and a £6,000 grant is being provided to the GB Co-ed Slowpitch Team over the next two financial years to help them attend the first-ever WBSC Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup for national teams, scheduled to take place in November 2023.
Election of Officers
The BSF Executive, which went into the AGM with vacancies in two key positions – National Teams Officer and Marketing and Communications Officer – will be even more short-handed following the AGM, with President Ieuan Gale stepping down after one two-year term and General Officer Mike Jennings stepping down after decades of distinguished service to the BSF.
However, there will be one addition to the Executive, with Nicola-Jane Dyson having been elected to a General Officer role.
All members of the Executive standing unopposed to continue in the second year of their current term were re-elected unanimously with the exception of one Officer, where there was one vote for NOTA “None of the Above”.
As there was no candidate standing for President and Ieuan Gale is stepping down, the Executive is constitutionally required to select an existing member of the Executive to take on the President’s role on an interim basis until a new President can be co-opted or elected at a subsequent AGM or EGM, and General Officer Lesley Morisetti has been chosen to take on the role.
Accordingly, the BSF Executive for 2023, barring the addition of further Officers by co-option, will be:
General Officer and Interim President: Lesley Morisetti
Treasurer: Laura Burkhardt
Competitions and Membership Officer: Liz Graham
Technical Officer: Pete Saunders
Coaching Officer: Michael Lott
General Officer (Safeguarding): Stella Ackrell
General Officer: Nicola-Jane Dyson
Bob Fromer will continue in his paid staff role as BSF Administrator.
The positions of National Teams Officer, Marketing and Communications Officer, and one General Officer position remain unfilled and the Executive will be looking to co-opt qualified people into those roles.
Changes to BSF Articles of Association
BSF’s current Articles of Association, based on a UK Sport template, are well over a decade old and are in need of some updating and revision.
Accordingly, the Executive brought a number of proposed changes to be considered and voted on at the AGM, and all were passed by a large majority of those voting with between 53 and 57 votes for each proposal and between 6 and 10 abstentions (there were no votes against). The changes are:
- One clause in Article 3, which defines the Objects of the Federation, was changed to reflect the fact that Softball now includes the disciplines of Baseball5, eSports and Para-sports (specifically Wheelchair Softball and Blind Baseball) in addition to the previously recognised formats of Slowpitch, Fastpitch, Indoor, Beach, and Corporate. The new formats are now official WBSC baseball-softball disciplines and so need to be included within the remit of the BSF – and the BBF.
- A new clause added to Article 3 asserts that the BSF and the BBF will collaborate to organise, promote and develop the new formats of Baseball5, e-Sports and Para-sports, including the entry of club and national teams into international competitions.
- A further new clause added to Article 3 asserts that the BSF and the BBF will collaborate on Olympic and Paralympic matters, with BSUK representing both Federations at the British National Olympic Committee and the British Paralympic Association.
- A new clause 13.3 states if the office of BSF President is vacant because the post has not been filled at an AGM, the Executive will choose one of its members to take on the role and responsibilities of the President on an interim basis. A previous clause had suggested that the only role of an Interim President would be to chair meetings, but this has now been widened to say that an Interim President will take on other roles and responsibilities associated with the position.
- A change to Article 18.1 specifies that a minimum of three and a maximum of five members of the BSF Executive shall be Directors of the company (BSF Ltd) and that the Directors will have sole responsibility for matters arising from incorporation.
- A change to Article 18.2 specifies that the Executive will consist of up to five Directors and up to six other elected Officers, including no more than three General Officers, plus an Athlete Representative. The effect of the change is to limit the number of Executive members to 11 and the number of General Officers to three, whereas formerly the limit was six. The overall effect is designed to keep the Executive to a manageable size.
- A new clause 19.2 specifies that All Directors and other Officers can vote on non-corporate matters that come before the Executive, with the President holding a casting vote. At present, the Athlete Representative would not have a vote, but a motion to change that is likely to be brought to the 2024 AGM.
- Clause 22.2, which is about benefits, gratuities and pensions to be paid to former Directors, has been deleted as not relevant to the way the BSF operates.
- Clause 26.1 has been changed to specify that candidates for the BSF Executive cannot be self-nominated, but must be nominated in a prescribed form by another member.
- A new clause 26.3 specifies that if there are no nominations for vacant positions on the Executive by the specified deadline prior to an AGM or EGM, nominations can be made from the floor for all positions except that of President. The Executive feels that the position of President is too important to depend on such an unplanned and random procedure.
- Article 42, which has some rather obscure provisions for how resolutions can be proposed and amended at a general meeting, has been deleted as not relevant to the way the BSF operates.
BSF Annual Awards
The BSF presents Annual Awards at each AGM, most of them related to the previous season, in categories where candidates are nominated.
The awards presented at this AGM are listed below, and full details of why they were given can be found in a separate article on the BSF website here.
- The Glover Cup for outstanding long-term service to softball by a coach, administrator or organiser, was awarded to Mark Saunders.
- The League Glover Cup for outstanding development achievement by an affiliated league was awarded to the Oxford Softball Association.
- The President’s Club Award for outstanding performance or development by an affiliated club or team was awarded to The Stags from the Great Britain Fastpitch League.
- The Umpire of the Year Award went to Stephen Coyle.
- The Tournament of the Year Award was won by the Solent Lastball Tournament.
- The Young Fastpitch Player of the Year Award was given to Tia Warsop from the Great Britain Senior Women’s Team.
- The Young Slowpitch Player of the Year Award was given to Rebekah Kay from the Bristol Tigers and GB Slowpitch Team.
- The Betsy Holden Award for outstanding achievement by a young person in developing or promoting the sport was given to Kai Owens from the GB Under-23 Men’s Fastpitch Team.
The BSUK section at the end of the meeting was delivered by BaseballSoftballUK CEO John Boyd, who began by congratulating all the award recipients.
“Over the years,” John said, “I’ve heard the comment from the BSF AGM floor that softball needs to become younger. But this is happening and there are many examples we can point to, as shown by the contribution of so many young award winners and contributors.”
John also paid tribute to Glover Cup winner Mark Saunders and the very successful programme he has developed over a number of years at Archway School in Stroud. “It’s such a live and important reminder,” John noted, “of how much teenagers enjoy playing and the impact that slowpitch can play on the growth of the sports.”
John then set out a definition: “BaseballSoftballUK is the development and Olympic performance agency for the Baseball and Softball Federations.”
“The value at the centre of our organisation,” John said,” is that baseball, fastpitch and slowpitch are three equally important disciplines at the heart of what we have to offer as the sport of baseball/softball, positioned alongside our counterparts in volleyball, netball, cricket, lacrosse, rugby, and many other sports.”
An important aspect of BSUK’s work is to represent baseball/softball to the sports’ key stakeholders, which include Sport England, UK Sport, the British Olympic Association, Major League Baseball, the Youth Sport Trust, the Child Protection in Sport Unit, the Major of London’s Office, and city councils and county-based sports partnerships across the country.
John then turned to some of the highlights of 2022-23, which he described as a big year of change for the organisation.
“We introduced a new Olympic performance department last year,” John said, “which Gary Anderson heads up. This time last year, our Sport England funding was confirmed for five years, including a great percentage of funding that we can allocate to our Olympic talent pathways in England. And our partnerships have diversified too, adding substantive relationships with UK Sport, Major League Baseball, the Mayor of London’s Office and the London Stadium.”
With regard to development, highlights of the past year included university softball and baseball being included as official BUCS sports, further work with softball clubs and leagues through the Development Charter, the introduction of a new Health Check for clubs, support for facilities and location relationships, and the provision of money to enhance facilities from BSUK’s Facilities Fund, which comes from BSUK’s own resources, not from Sport England.
Although BSUK has no formal responsibilities over slowpitch or men’s fastpitch national teams, John said, the World Class Performance Programme being built around the Women’s Fastpitch programme will create “a halo of benefits” for other national team programmes as well.
At Farnham Park, BSUK built Field 5 last year and provided a fully-skinned infield on the softball diamond on Field 2. Now, a purpose-built field at Conniburrow in Milton Keynes is now back on line for use, particularly by the Milton Keynes slowpitch league and by fastpitch.
Unfortunately, John said, the proposed development of a dedicated facility along the lines of Farnham Park at Hough End in Manchester has failed to materialise due to objections from local residents, so BSUK will re-set its facilities strategies and will continue to consult with the softball community about needs.
BSUK also continues to coordinate Regents Park on behalf of London Leagues.
Safeguarding, welfare and governance are going to become a major priority for all sports, John told the meeting, in light of the Whyte Review into the abuse of athletes in British Gymnastics, which has created new expectations for the organisation of sport.
Safeguarding, culture, coaching, officiating, and diversity are all areas where the government will expect National Governing Bodies to be proactive to ensure that the experience sports provide is as high-quality, safe and inclusive as is possible. This is an area where the responsibilities of BSUK and the BSF overlap significantly and discussions with the BSF Executive on these areas are ongoing.
With regard to events, John noted that BSUK is now supporting the running of NSL weekends and some National Championships on behalf of the BSF, and this year will organise the Softball World Series.
“I want to thank the British Softball community for this,” John said. “By keeping the revenues in the sport, we have been able to invest in Farnham Park, and the two new slowpitch infields are an example.”
BSUK is now also running several Slowptich Cup competitions, including the Fully Loaded Cup and the May and June Cups, and last year introduced a new All-Star Women’s Fastpitch Series which will continue in 2023.
John said: “You’ve heard today that there are more and more areas that require close working between baseball and softball to meet expectations from government and from the International Federation, and this is putting more and more pressure on the two voluntary boards. BSUK is under no illusion about the scale of the ask on voluntary Boards and we are ready and willing to offer our staff and resource to help wherever it is required. This may well include approaches those attending this AGM, as key decision makers in the sport, to contribute.”
Finally, looking ahead to 2023, John said that BSUK will:
- Publish key actions for the development of fastpitch and slowpitch softball.
- Start planning, with the BSF, for the 2026 European Slowpitch Championships.
- Work with the BSF – and BBF – on the creation of a Diversity Inclusion Action Plan and People Plan as required by the government.
- Continue to support clubs and leagues through the Development Charter and Health Check.
- Bring back Academy Slowpitch, along with a specific development programme for captains and coaches.
- Continue to develop the MLB London Legacy Programme. Within it, there will be a generic youth format introduced across 250 schools nationwide, a local pop-up community provision programme in East London and a volunteering programme.
At the close of the meeting BSUK Board Chair Phil Veasey, thanked the BSF Executive for its work and offered particular thanks to Ieuan Gale for his efforts and commitment during his two years as BSF President.
Ieuan closed the meeting by noting that BBF President Tom Thornhill was in attendance and wished the GB Men’s Baseball Team the best of luck when they play in the World Baseball Classic in Arizona early in March.
“This is the end of my time as BSF President,” Ieuan said. “The last two years have been a rollercoaster, but we have achieved a lot, and I’m sure this will continue. I want to offer my thanks to everyone at this AGM for your enthusiasm and dedication that makes the sport what it is.”