Slowpitch is growing in Europe

09
Mar

Bob Fromer

Who knows what will happen when Brexit finally begins to bite -- but right now it’s clear that there are no trade barriers or hard borders stopping the popularity of slowpitch softball flowing from the UK to the rest of Europe.

This is the 20th year since the first-ever European Slowpitch Championship in 1998, when just four teams – GB, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Guernsey – battled it out for the title at Brunel University.

Nine years later, in 2007, the European Slowpitch Cup began, with five club teams from Great Britain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Austria and France playing a four-day tournament in Limeil, just outside Paris.

During the early years of both competitions, the number of entries generally hovered around five or six teams – enough to keep the competitions going, but without any real signs of growth.

Now fast forward to 2018.

This year’s European Slowpitch Super Cup – the biennial successor to the annual European Slowpitch Cup – has attracted 16 entries, making it the largest-ever official European slowpitch tournament.  This has had the European Softball Federation (ESF) and local organisers scrambling around to find an additional field, and with that number of teams, the tournament will start on Monday and finish on Saturday (the dates are 30 July-4 August).  This is what most of the ESF’s fastpitch tournaments do, but a slowpitch tournament has never before had a full week’s play.

There is also a new slowpitch competition on the ESF calendar this year – theEuropean Men’s Slowpitch Championship.  This was first tried in 2016 but fewer than four countries – the minimum number for a tournament to be held – committed to it.  This year, however, and again to the ESF’s surprise, seven countries have signed up to play.

Even more significant is the countries that are now getting involved in European slowpitch tournaments.

Traditionally, the two major fastpitch powers in Europe – Italy and the Netherlands – have been conspicuous by their absence at official ESF slowpitch events.  This year, however, the European Slowpitch Super Cup is being hosted in Riccione, Italy, with two Italian club teams among the entries, and both Italy and the Netherlands have entered the European Men’s Slowpitch Championship.  There are also likely to be Dutch and Italian teams at this year’s Softball World Series in the UK.

With those barriers broken, and most of Europe’s leading fastpitch countries now participating in European slowpitch events, it could be said that slowpitch has well and truly arrived on the Continent.

The main task now will be to increase the number of countries taking part in the biennial European Co-ed Slowpitch Championship.  This is Europe’s premier slowpitch competition, but it’s also the one where growth has been slowest.  The last four Slowpitch Championships have all had just six entries, and the high point was eight teams back in 2010.

But even here, there are hopeful signs.  Both the Netherlands and Belgium are sending official National Slowpitch Teams to the Softball World Series this year, and there is a high expectation that both countries will enter next year’s European Slowpitch Championship.  The Netherlands has never played in this event before, and Belgium sent a national team to it only once, in 2010. 

With Italy now sending teams to two European slowpitch events in 2018, the chances of an Italian national co-ed team emerging in 2019 have to be increased.

And who knows – maybe the fact that the GB Co-ed Slowpitch Team failed to win the European Slowpitch Championship in 2017 for the first time in the competition’s history could encourage even more countries to come out and play.

It’s taken a lot of years of hard work and encouragement, in which the British Softball Federation and British teams, players and coaches have played a full part, but the signs are finally there that slowpitch is now an accepted part of Europe’s softball competition landscape.

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About Bob Fromer

Bob Fromer

Bob was the founding CEO of BSUK and now works for the agency as a Communications Consultant. In a volunteer capacity, he was General Manager of the GB Fastpitch National Teams programme for many years, a former Team Manager for the GB Women and GB Under-19 Women and still serves on the GB Softball Management Committee. Bob has been involved with slowpitch and fastpitch softball in Britain since the sport’s earliest days, and travels abroad with many GB Softball Teams to report on their achievements for the BSF website.

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