Sport England announced their £493m four-year investment plan on Monday and the good news is that £3m will be coming the way of baseball and softball.
The two sports received a combined £2.6m from Sport England for the 2009-2013 funding period. The great work of BaseballSoftballUK, combined with the efforts of many volunteers throughout the country, during that period has ensured that not only have we maintained that funding, but we’ve had a slight increase for 2013-17.
BSUK’s draft Whole Sport Plan 2013-17 can be found on their website and – as well as showing just how much work they put into the plan – it states that they were seeking just under £4.2m, reducing to £3.7m “without the cost of talent development, facilities and governance support”.
In light of this, Sport England’s decision to provide £3m may be a disappointment. I’m sure the BSUK will provide clarity on what the funding level will mean for their work over the next four years once they’ve had a chance to fully think through the implications. Even if the funding isn’t quite what was hoped for, it’s still a strong endorsement of what the BSUK has achieved over the the latest four-year funding period.
Sport England’s announcement came as BSUK published their Year in Review report for 2011-12. What is particularly noticeable from the report is that the agency took the brave move to set some challenging targets for the year. They didn’t always meet them, for various reasons, but the ambition to move baseball and softball forward through greatly increasing participation is there for all to see.
Much like with Sport England, BaseballSoftballUK will have to make difficult decisions on the best way to ‘invest’ the funding for the greater good. The 2012-13 action plan put particular emphasis on developing coaching and facilities, two key areas that can provide both short and long-term benefits. The Sport England application understandably was geared towards increasing participation and adding detailed plans to developing their ‘Played in every park’ vision.
The Sport England funding is specifically focused on supporting sport at the ‘grassroots’, as opposed to the UK Sport funding announced on Tuesday which relates to summer Olympic and Paralympic sports. 2012 was a remarkable year for British sport but the golden Olympic summer did seem a little bittersweet due to baseball and softball not being a part of it. That would have brought many benefits, although it now seems that some of the longer-term gains may not have materialised.
The legacy facilities in London we initially dreamed of probably would have been scrapped in favour of temporary venues once the budget cuts kicked in. Britain’s participation in the baseball and softball tournaments also may not have led to much in the way of post-2012 funding either.
One of the biggest headlines from the UK Sport funding announcement was that basketball, which received £8.6m in funding for London 2012, will have no UK sport funding for Rio 2016. UK Sport are quick to stress the funding decisions were based on reaching medal targets; however it’s difficult not to be cynical. They were happy to provide funding when the event brought NBA stars to the O2 Arena, but as soon as it left these shores they didn’t want to know.
I suspect the same would have happened to baseball and softball. Mind you, the funding up to 2012, combined with a potential associated increase in Sport England funding, would have done wonders.
That’s in the past though and national team funding likely will be in short supply unless baseball and softball gain re-entry to the Olympics.
Not only were both sports unsuccessful in achieving this at the August 2009 International Olympic Committee Board meeting, the International Softball Federation took the decision during that process that baseball – with it’s major stars not competing in the Olympics and the well-publicised drug issues – was damaging its chances of getting re-elected and publicly distanced themselves from the sport.
Thankfully that division has now been put to one side. The International Baseball Federation and International Softball Federation confirmed this week that they have agreed to create a unified international federation called the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Whilst there are pros and cons with separate and joint bids for Olympic reinstatement, what is not in doubt is that the two sports can be much stronger when working together, especially in countries where they are minority sports. BSUK epitomizes the way in which everyone can benefit through the sharing of resources, facilities, ideas and enthusiasm.
Hopefully the creation of the World Baseball Softball Confederation and the Sport England funding for baseball and softball will prove to be positive developments for the future growth of both sports in the U.K. over the next four years.