The 2023 World Baseball Softball Confederation Europe (WBSCE) Congress took place in Belgrade, Serbia on 10-11 February. BSF President Ieuan Gale and GB Women’s Team Performance Director Gary Anderson attended on behalf of the BSF, and BSF General Officer Mike Jennings attended as Softball Europe’s Competitions Director. Below is Ieuan Gale’s report on the meeting.
On Friday 10 February the WBSCE hosted the softball and baseball commissions concurrently. While there appeared to be a lot of drama in the baseball commission, with accusations being thrown around and money not yet fully accounted for, the softball commission was well-run and business-like by comparison.
The first topic discussed was a review of last year’s fastpitch softball camp for coaches and young players run by ESCA, the European Softball Coaches Association, plus a look forward to future camps. ECSA and its camps are run by former GB Women’s Team Head Coach Craig Montvidas.
ESCA is creating a new online information system with two different memberships: a free option and a premium option. The latter will cost 75 euros and will give access to drills, podcasts, databases, coaching tools and mentorship from US coaches.
It was noted by the Softball Commission that Federations should do more to recommend, publish and advertise the camp so that engagement increases. ESCA’s goal is: “Getting Better Together”.
Next, the Softball Commission meeting discussed last year’s European tournament schedule. It was a very busy season in 2022, but 2023 will be even busier, and each of the tournaments scheduled in 2023 was considered.
European Under-18 and Under-16 Men’s Fastpitch Championships. These will be hosted in Sezimovo Ústí in the Czech Republic, and it was made abundantly clear that, unlike the last time they held these two Championships together, this year they will be run as two separate tournaments and although younger players could theoretically play for both squads, this will be difficult and there will not be a schedule designed to allow this to happen.
The European Under-18 Women’s Championship will be hosted in Prague in the Czech Republic. Because this tournament has 22 teams entered, it will start on the Sunday rather than the Monday to give the organisers time to run a huge schedule, and the Technical Meeting before the tournament will happen on the Saturday.
The European Super Six Tournament, for the top six women’s fastpitch teams and the top six men’s baseball teams in Europe, was discussed at length. This competition has not taken place since the inaugural event in 2018, where the GB Women’s Team defeated the Netherlands in the bronze medal game. It was cancelled in 2022 due to the host pulling out and was next scheduled for 2024. But no one has bid to host it.
Due to the nature of this tournament (a baseball and a softball tournament held at the same time at the same venue), finding a host may be difficult. The 2018 Super Six Tournament was held late in the season, in September, and if this happens again, the same issue may arise as last time: a clash with US collegiate programmes. Many athletes representing GB and other countries who are playing at US colleges were unable to get time off to attend the tournament, weakening their teams.
Finally, the 2026 European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship was discussed. There were two bids for hosting this event, from GB and Ireland. I had prepared a presentation to support our bid, but just as the meeting started, the President of Softball Ireland announced that Ireland had withdrawn their bid. So it has been confirmed that the 2026 European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship, which should be a qualifying event for the 2027 WBSC Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup, will be held at Farnham Park!
The Commission then discussed European club tournaments, a number of which still did not have hosts when the Congress began, Including the European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup, which has 17 teams entered. The difficulty with a tournament of this size is that three fields are required, which is a challenge. As this report is published, a potential host has come forward but needs confirmation on use of a third field before this can be finalised.
The European Women’s Cup (a qualifying event for the Women’s Premiere Cup) and the European Women’s Cup Winners Cup B (a qualifying event for the Cup Winners Cup A), both of which have British entries (The Mix and Barbarians respectively) had no hosts at the time of the Softball Commission meeting, but hosts have subsequently emerged.
The European Women’s Cup will be hosted by the Croatian Cup Princ Zagreb and the European Women’s Cup Winners Cup B will be hosted by the Dutch club Roef in Moergestel.
The European Women’s Cup only has four teams entered. After the 2023 season, the WBSCE will launch an investigation into why the number of teams entering this tournament has fallen away.
The European Men’s Fastpitch Super Cup, with two British teams and 20 teams entered in total, also does not have a host. Due to its size, and much like the Slowpitch Super Cup, the number of fields required is proving problematic.
There was a suggestion to change the structure of the tournament due to the challenges of last year’s event, when torrential rain messed up the schedule and severely delayed the tournament, which ultimately led to games not being played and some medals being awarded by default. While the attitude of most of the delegates in the room was that the current double elimination structure of the Men’s Fastpitch Super Cup is popular and should be left alone, the WBSCE is looking into possible changes to the format of the tournament.
Changes to regulations
A number of changes were announced to European tournament rules and regulations.
Hosting. Bids to host any B Pool club tournament can now come from teams that have not qualified for the event. Such teams will automatically get a host place. This applies to both the European Women's Cup, which is in effect a B Pool tournament for the Premiere Cup, and to the European Women's Cup Winners Cup B.
Facemasks. Facemasks with full-face grills will be required from this season onward for batters and baserunners for all tournaments at the Under-16 age level and below for both men’s and women’s competitions and facemasks will have to be worn by first and third base players and pitchers. Under-16 athletes playing in higher age groups will not have to wear facemasks, but it is highly recommended. The BSF Executive has since voted to adopt these requirements but has extended them to all players under 18.
Timing. The rules already in existence about 60 seconds between innings will be enforced much more stringently going forwards, and catchers and pitchers must be ready. If the time elapses, then warm-up pitches will be curtailed.
Other changes coming in include:
- A change to daily tournament reports.
- Changes to the Technical Meeting before a tournament: uniforms must now be presented for inspection.
- Final team rosters before the start of a tournament must be submitted earlier than in previous years.
No more ESF
Finally, it was announced that this Congress was officially bringing the European Softball Federation (ESF) to a close, as both the ESF and the Confederation of European Baseball (CEB) have been formally folded into the WBSCE.
There was a brief review of the ESF’s history. It was created in 1976, and there have been nine Presidents in that time (including our own Mike Jennings). Over those years, much has happened and developed -- perhaps most notably the growth of slowpitch softball across the Continent.
Congress Plenary Session
A plenary session of the Congress was held on Saturday 11 February, with both baseball and softball delegates present, and a number of topics were covered.
There was an extended discussion around money, and specifically money not yet fully accounted for from the final CEB accounts.
Combining the ESF and CEB into WBSC Europe has led to a combining of their budgets, which has raised some issues about funding allocations.
WBSC Europe has a new governance department, led by Mette Nissen Jakobsen from Denmark and including, among others, John Boyd from BaseballSoftballUK. The governing principles will be:
- Controls and compliance
- Public communication
The strategy to achieve this will be:
- WBSC self-assessment
- A review of outcomes
- Creation of an action plan
- Implementation of policies
WBSCE Softball Commission President Gabriel Waage reported on softball activity in 2022, when there were 14 softball European Championships or Cups. Highlights included:
- There were two new national women’s teams at the European Women’s Championship in 2022: Malta and Finland.
- The 2022 ESCA Camp was a great success, with 60 players and coaches attending.
- A contract has been signed that ensures the continuation of the annual European Massimo Romeo Youth Trophy (EMRYT) tournament for Under-13 teams.
Another topic was the new format for the WBSC Women’s World Cup, which now has two stages and will be tried for the first time this year and next – and, as it happens, in Europe.
This summer, 18 countries that have qualified from regional competitions held in 2022 or early 2023, such as the European Women’s Championship, will play in three six-team Group Stage tournaments to qualify for the eight-team World Cup finals, which will be played in 2024 in Italy.
The Group Stage tournaments will be played in Ireland, Spain and Italy on different weeks in July, and the GB Women’s Team will play in Ireland, from 11-15 July, in a group containing the USA, Australia, Ireland, Botswana and the third qualifying country from Asia, yet to be determined.
The hope is that the new World Cup format will demonstrate the growth and worldwide nature of softball, helping ensure that baseball and softball are included in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
This discussion was around the conclusions from a study about branding issues for the two sports.
At the moment, there is a lack of unity, with multiple brands and no real connection to the WBSC, the global organisation. New logos are needed and a new logo manual has been published.
The WBSC has been heavily promoting eSport versions of baseball and softball (mainly baseball).
A virtual Cup held last year attracted 8000 entries and was held across four countries, with a Grand Final in Seoul, South Korea.
Next year will see another tournament with even more players from more countries taking part.
Meanwhile, the WBSC has recently launched a new game, “Baseball Power Pros”, an Olympic eSport Series has been announced, and agreements have been reached with the world’s largest eSports league.
A WBSC Integrity Unit will be crafting a document with rules and recommendations for play.
Veteran Austrian pitcher Martina Lackner-Keil, who is the Athlete Representative on the WBSC Executive Board, reported to the meeting on responses from athletes in various European countries to new tournament formats introduced over the last couple of years.
The next goals are to strengthen ties between athletes across the WBSC community, create an Athletes’ Commission, facilitate playing opportunities for athletes across Europe and in US colleges, and have a representative for men’s fastpitch on the Executive Board soon.
Motions and proposals
A number of proposals around Baseball5 were voted on at once, including allocation of competitions, and these were passed -- but not easily.
There is a new WBSCE Hall of Fame, and it was proposed that people who were previously inducted into the ESF Hall of Fame should be included in the new one. This was passed easily.
Finally, a motion to continue the suspension of Russia and Belarus from all levels of European competition was passed with one against and two abstentions.