The 2021 BSF AGM was successfully held as a large remote meeting on Saturday 27 February, with a total of 69 people attending, including members of the BSF Executive and three BaseballSoftballUK staff members.
Votes were cast by 47 of those attending on behalf of affiliated leagues and teams.
The meeting was chaired by BSF President Jenny Fromer, who was stepping down after the AGM following four years in office. During the meeting, a number of thank you messages were posted on the Chat function commending Jenny for her leadership during that time.
The meeting was recorded, but for technical reasons may only be available to people with Gmail accounts. If anyone with a Gmail account would like to listen to the recording, please contact Jenny Fromer.
There were no Matters Arising from the Minutes of the 2020 BSF AGM, which had been reproduced in the 2021 AGM Pack, and there were no questions from members regarding Officers’ Reports and National Team Reports in the AGM Pack.
The Minutes from the 2020 AGM were approved by 46 votes with one abstention.
New BSF website
BSF Administrator Bob Fromer told the meeting that a new and upgraded BSF website had gone live the evening before the AGM.
The new website, which can be found at www.britishsoftball.org, has been put together over the past few months by BaseballSoftballUK Head of Operations Tim Stride, and is designed to be easier to use, more image-oriented and, above all, more responsive on mobile phones, tablets and other portable devices.
Members were invited to look through the new site and come back to the BSF with comments on via email.
There was some discussion about prospects for European competitions in 2021, and about changes to World Cup competitions announced by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) the day before the AGM.
Although no one knows with certainty how vaccine rollouts will progress in Europe and how and when Covid regulations and restrictions will be eased, the European Softball Federation (ESF) is taking the position at the moment that all its tournaments planned for this summer are “on” unless and until circumstances force them to be cancelled.
The Covid regulations under which each tournament will take place will depend on local conditions applying in each country at the time, and at this point, these cannot be foreseen.
Five GB National Teams and six British club teams are scheduled to take part in official competitions this summer in three different European countries: Italy, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
The difficulties this poses for our national and club teams was voiced at the meeting by GB Women’s Team Head Coach Rachael Watkeys, who talked about how uncertainties surrounding local regulations and their effect on tournament costs was making it impossible to plan, financially or otherwise, and this could mean players withdrawing from GB squads. Among the issues that remain largely unknown are travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, the possible need for vaccination certificates and/or negative Covid tests before travelling and restrictions on room-sharing, which would massively increase team accommodation costs.
However, the problem at this point is that neither ESF officials or tournament organisers in host countries are able to speak to these questions with any certainty.
Mike Jennings, who is a General Officer on the BSF Executive but also the ESF Competitions Director, told the meeting that the ESF will soon announce dates on which it will make a Yes/No decision on each of its tournaments – but there is, of course, no guarantee that a “Yes” decision on a given date won’t be sabotaged by later events and regulations.
Ian Tomlin, Head Coach of the GB Under-23 Men’s Fastpitch Team, asked Mike why the European Under-23 Men’s Qualifier planned for the summer had been cancelled. Mike replied that this was because the WBSC had moved the date of the first-ever Under-23 Men’s World Cup to the end of 2022, and a new date for a European Qualifier would need to be determined.
Mike also told the meeting that, although no dates have yet been set by the WBSC for the long-promised Slowpitch World Cup, the WBSC has set up a Working Party to look at all aspects of developing co-ed and single-sex slowpitch worldwide as another of the WBSC’s main disciplines, alongside baseball, fastpitch softball and Baseball 5.
Mike will be Europe’s lead representative on the Working Party, which will hold its first meeting on 23 March, and one of its key aims will be to define regulations and set a date for the first-ever Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup for national teams.
Meanwhile, on 26 February, the WBSC announced a major shake-up of its systems, processes and Calendar for fastpitch World Cups through 2029. Details of these changes will be set out in an article to appear shortly on the BSF website. Meanwhile, full details can be found on the WBSC website.
Report from the 2021 League Heads Forum
The 2021 League Heads Forum meeting was held as a remote meeting on Saturday 13 February, and Jenny Fromer briefly listed the main topics covered: BSF finances, return to play prospects for 2021, developments at Farnham Park, Personal Accident and Injury Insurance, coach and umpire training plans for 2021 and safeguarding issues.
A number of these issues were discussed again later in the AGM.
A full report from the League Heads Forum can be found here on the new BSF website.
Personal Accident and Injury Insurance
One of the issues picked up from the League Heads Forum was Personal Accident and Injury Insurance, which the BSF had wound up paying for in 2020 even though there was no season and no teams and leagues signed up for it.
That insurance ran out in December 2020, and Mike Jennings told the AGM that the BSF would not be renewing it until a minimum of 50 teams had committed to paying for it. If at least that number of teams sign up, then the cost of the insurance can be held to around £20 per team or around £1 per player. This would provide the same level of coverage as in 2019, when more than 200 teams had taken up the insurance through their leagues.
Accounts and Budget
BSF Treasurer Laura Burkhardt told the AGM that the BSF had suffered from having no membership fee income in 2020 but a considerable number of fixed costs, and had only been saved from going in or near the red by a £20,000 grant from Sport England.
This kept losses for the year to around £25,000 and allowed the BSF to finish the year with just over £30,000 in the bank, though this is less than the £55,000-£60,000 of reserves required by governance principles.
In constructing a budget for 2020-21, Laura reported, the BSF had examined its fixed costs, costs of maintaining national team programmes and National Championships (game costs) and then other discretionary costs, and had made cuts in all three categories, with help on some fixed costs from BaseballSoftballUK. A further assumption in drawing up the budget and estimating income was that not all teams that affiliated in 2019 would return in 2021: the working assumption is for a decline in team membership of 20%.
The budget set out in the AGM Pack projects an operating deficit of £3,000, but the budget could be re-examined, Laura said, once it was clearer how much of a season could be staged and what membership income was likely to be.
The BSF Executive has decided that membership fees will remain the same as in 2019 (the fees can be viewed here), though the BSF will need to raise fees over coming seasons to restore the required level of reserves.
A question was raised from the floor about the possibility of another Sport England grant this year. Nothing has yet been said by Sport England about further support for Federations, and support would be unlikely unless the season had to be cancelled. But if a grant is available, the BSF will certainly apply for it.
The 2019-20 accounts and the 2020-21 budget were approved by 45 votes with two abstentions.
Jenny Fromer told the meeting that none of the BSF’s Annual Awards were being made at this year’s AGM because there had been no season in 2020 to base them on.
The BSF will hope to resume its Annual Awards next year, and in addition will plan to induct new members into the BSF Hall of Fame at the 2022 AGM.
However, awards for coaching and volunteers were made by BaseballSoftballUK at its annual Coach Summit, held remotely at the end of January, and two awards were made to members of the softball community.
The Softball Youth Coach of the Year Award, given to an outstanding contributor to coaching young people in softball in Great Britain in 2020, went to Kim Roberts from the Horsham Broncos Softball Club.
The Softball Adult Coach of the Year Award, given to an outstanding contributor to adult softball coaching in Great Britain in 2020, went to Whitney Hollis from the London Softball League.
Full details on these awards can be found on the BSF website.
Finally, the BSF Executive has made three nominations – for two players and one umpire – to the European Softball Federation Hall of Fame.
The players nominated are long-time GB Slowpitch Team stars Brett Gibbens and Stephanie Jardine, and if their nominations are approved by the ESF, they will become the first slowpitch players inducted to the European Hall of Fame.
The umpire nomination is for Chris Moon, who has been an umpire, umpire-trainer and Training Officer in the UK as well as the BSF’s Technical Officer, and has umpired at ESF and ISF slowpitch tournaments as well as serving as an ESF Umpire-in-Chief.
Elections for the BSF Executive
All those standing at the AGM for Officer positions on the BSF Executive were unopposed and all were elected, in most cases for two-year terms. The exception is Coaching Officer Mike Lott, who will be serving the second year of his first term in that position.
Two newcomers to the Executive are President Ieuan Gale and Communications and Marketing Officer Simon Mortimer. Technical Officer Pete Saunders is also relatively new to the Executive, having been co-opted earlier this year to replace Chris Moon, who stepped down due to illness.
The BSF Executive for 2021-22 is as follows:
President: Ieuan Gale
Treasurer: Laura Burkhardt
Competitions Officer: Liz Graham
National Teams Officer: Alexis Markham-Hill
OTHER OFFICER ROLES
Coaching Officer: Mike Lott
Technical Officer: Pete Saunders
Safeguarding Officer: Currently vacant
General Officer / Farnham Park Liaison: Steve Getraer
General Officer / Finance: Mike Jennings
General Officer / National Championship Support: Lesley Morisetti
General Officer / National Teams Support: Stella Ackrell
General Officer / Communications & Marketing: Simon Mortimer
London Liaison Officer: Alan MacFarlane
The BSF Administrator – a position currently held by Bob Fromer – is a part-time paid position and is not subject to election. The BSF/BSUK Fastpitch Development Manager – a position currently held by Alyson Spinas-Valainis – is a full-time paid role shared between the BSF and BaseballSoftballUK and appointed by a joint panel made up of members from both organisations.
New BSF President Ieuan Gale told the meeting that he has been a member of the softball community for a decade, playing both fastpitch and slowpitch in this country and for GB Teams abroad.
“I am humbled to be a candidate for this position,” Ieuan said, “and with a great Committee to support me, I hope to bring both energy and enthusiasm to the role, so I can play a small part in helping British softball achieve all that it can.”
Jenny Fromer told the meeting that since submitting his application to stand as President, Ieuan had spent the past several months conscientiously preparing for the position, attending BSF, BSUK and GB Management Committee meetings and talking individually with many Executive members to get a better sense of their roles and the issues facing the Federation.
A brief session presented by BaseballSoftballUK CEO John Boyd, Head of Commercial Joelle Watkins and National Development Manager Chris Rawlings covered the following topics:
- BSUK’s Development Charter
- Return to Play possibilities
- Farnham Park update
DEVELOPMENT CHARTER. Chris Rawlings told the meeting that BSUK’s Development Charter, launched in August 2020, provides a robust programme of support for softball teams, clubs and leagues, and that all affiliated BSF teams were members by right.
However, John Boyd urged members to actively sign up to the Charter, as a public statement that development and safeguarding matter – and as a means of providing a kind of kitemark for that club or team.
SAFEGUARDING. With regard to safeguarding, John told the meeting that it is a statutory responsibility for any governing body of sport funded by Sport England and/or UK Sport, and that BSUK has taken on this responsibility for softball for the past 20 years, working to requirements set by the NSPCC and its Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU).
A network of Safeguarding Officers is now in place, John said, connecting policies and practices to execution on the ground. BSUK can provide various forms of safeguarding training and can help teams and leagues with DBS checks. The system is there to make sure that any safeguarding issues are spotted early and reacted to appropriately.
He urged all league and team representatives at the meeting to ensure they had a Safeguarding Officer in place when play resumes, and that the name and contact details of this Safeguarding Officer are known to BSUK as well as to all members of the league or team.
RETURN TO PLAY. With regard to whether and when softball play can resume in 2021, Joelle Watkins told the meeting that following the government’s “road map” announcement on 22 February, BaseballSoftballUK is in active discussions with Sport England, who in turn are talking to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
There is no certainty yet, Joelle said, but BSUK’s belief is that when outdoor play is allowed to resume, perhaps as early as 29 March, numbers will be unrestricted – which would allow tournaments as well as league games to take place.
But this can only happen if regulations are strictly observed regarding travel, social distancing, hygiene and participant registration, as set out on the Return to Play Hub on the BSUK website. All leagues, teams or tournament organisers setting up any kind of play will need to have a Covid-19 Officer in place to ensure that regulations are known and adhered to – and BSUK will need to have the names and contact details of these Officers.
Joelle said: “With a lot of help from Steve Hazard, who works in the NHS, we successfully made the case last year that softball is a low-contact and low-risk sport, and we are sure we can do this again.”
FARNHAM PARK. Joelle and John Boyd told the meeting that there are likely to be changes at Farnham Park this season that will provide improved playing conditions in future but could mean some disruption this season.
BSUK is looking to turn both the softball and baseball diamonds on Field 1, the field by the Home Plate clubhouse, into sophisticated artificial turf fields, which will provide the opportunity for year-round play on a predictable surface. But if these plans go forward, Field 1 would be out of action for part of this season.
There are also plans to build a fifth dedicated softball diamond on part of the grass area between Fields 3 and 4 and what is now the Phoenix clubhouse.
In addition, South Bucks District Council, which owns and operates Farnham Park, is planning to upgrade the grass football pitches to the left of the road as you enter the Park, which are used for larger softball tournaments during the summer. From 2022 onwards, this will mean more fields available, in better condition, with the possibility of softball bookings earlier and later than is now the case.
But the result of all this upgrading is that for the 2021 season only nine or 10 pitches will be available for play -- the ones circled in the diagram below plus three or four of the dedicated pitches --which will mean changes for some tournaments, particularly the Diamond Series and the National Softball League (NSL). The BSF is looking at these problems and talking to Diamonds organisers and expects to make an announcement soon.
In answer to a question from the floor, John Boyd confirmed that since the British Baseball Federation is no longer part of the tri-partite agreement between the BSF, the BBF and BSUK, the BSF will have priority in booking pitches and events at Farnham Park, though the hope and expectation is that baseball will still be played there.
Meanwhile, Joelle told the meeting about two new playing opportunities this season: a new BSUK Slowpitch Cup, to be played at Farnham Park with “fully loaded” rules on the weekend of 19-20 June, and the softball competition for corporate teams to be held within the UK Corporate Games at Lancaster University from 2-5 September.
Jenny Fromer told the meeting: “We are all planning for a season in 2021 – and it’s better to plan and cancel if necessary than not to plan at all. Updates will be on the new BSF website as soon as we know them.”
With the announcement of election results, Jenny Fromer brought the 2021 BSF AGM to a close.
“In all my dealings with the membership over the past four years,” Jenny said, “people have been kind and supportive, and I am grateful to the softball community.”
Although Jenny has stepped down as BSF President, she will remain for the time being as a Nominated Director on the BSUK Board to provide support for Ieuan Gale and to help with restructuring issues that BSUK and the BSF will face following the defection of the BBF.