A press conference was held in Regensburg, Germany two weeks ago to announce details of next year’s IBAF Baseball World Cup. The marquee international tournament is being held in Europe and promises to be a great showcase for the sport; however two weeks on and there is still some uncertainty over Great Britain’s involvement in the competition.
The World Cup is scheduled to take place between 9 and 27 September and the press conference was designed to provide an update on the preparations with one year to go before the tournament begins. The event’s structure and the venues were all confirmed, but it was noticeable that one of the first round groups had a provisional look about it.
The IBAF statement shows Group D (staged in Moscow) as containing Russia, Japan, France/Great Britain, and Americas 5. The latter is a reference to the fact that the identity of the ‘Americas’ team will be determined at the Baseball Cup of the Americas, which begins in Venezuela today and will see five sides qualify for the World Cup. The real source of confusion is the slash between France and Great Britain, clearly implying that there is some doubt over which of the two teams will participate.
Great Britain’s second place finish in the 2007 European Baseball Championships was thought to have automatically booked them a spot in the 2009 Baseball World Cup, so the inclusion of France’s name deserves an explanation. As yet this has not been forthcoming despite a request for some clarification being sent to the IBAF.
British baseball fans have a reason to be nervous about any suggestion that our national team may be denied its rightful place in a major international tournament. The optimism that greeted Team GB’s performance in the European championships last year soon turned to despondency when it became clear that a lack of funds would stop them from travelling to Chinese Taipei for the Final Olympic qualifying tournament. Germany were handed Britain’s hard-earned place on that occasion and now it appears as though France may be awarded the other benefit that Team GB had seemingly gained.
Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon and with a positive outcome for British baseball. It would be another big blow if the team had to miss out on the event. The 2009 World Cup has the potential to be a real boost to the sport in this continent at a time when traditional sources of funding could be squeezed due to baseball being ousted from the Olympics. Some additional hope for the future is needed and this could be just the event to provide it.
There will be five first round groups, each being staged in a different European country. Prague, Barcelona, Stockholm, Moscow and Regensburg will all host some quality international baseball, with the Regensburg stadium undergoing a 1.3 million Euro (£1 million) development to raise its capacity to 10,000. The second round of the tournament will be split over two more countries, the Netherlands and Italy, with the latter then staging the finals.
With six of the twenty teams involved hailing from the home continent, it should also help to publicise the fact that baseball is part of Europe’s sporting culture. “Here in Europe ” said IBAF Secretary General John Ostermeyer “Baseball is considered an American sport that is played also somewhere. With this effort we are trying to make it also here an international sport that is played in America”. Josh Chetwynd’s latest book on the history of baseball in Europe couldn’t have been published at a better time.
In some ways, the World Cup will be overshadowed by the World Baseball Classic next year. The latter event has the advantage of many MLB stars to draw in spectators and generate general interest. Its ability to promote the sport is exactly why MLB has joined forces with the IBAF to fully support the tournament, particularly after the success of the inaugural staging of the event in 2006. In contrast, only a household of dedicated international baseball fans, or people who take a special interest in MLB prospects, are likely to know the names of many of the players who will be playing in the World Cup.
Its importance to those involved shouldn’t be underestimated though and, in all honesty, a clutch of MLB stars probably wouldn’t have Europeans queuing around the block for tickets anyway. A fiercely competitive and skillful international competition including local teams stands a good chance of raising some interest and creating a few more converts to the baseball cause. With the International Olympic Committee meeting for a summit in Denmark shortly after the World Cup in October 2009, such new support could be very important.
The 2009 Baseball World Cup has all the makings of being a great event for the sport in Europe and could play a crucial role in the campaign to win back Olympic status. Whether it will be a great event for British baseball remains to be seen.