Mixed result for softball and baseball from UK Sport Aspiration Fund

Thu 6 Dec 2018

Friday 7 December -- There was a mixed result for GB Softball and GB Baseball from the awards announced this morning from UK Sport’s new Aspiration Fund, set up to provide Olympic qualification support for sports that do not receive UK Sport performance funding.

The GB Women’s Fastpitch Team programme received an award of £62,500 to support preparations for this summer’s European Championship and Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifying Tournament for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, but no award was made to the GB Baseball Team.

Both GB Teams will play in a European Championship this summer that will determine who will take part in Olympic qualifying tournaments that will follow shortly thereafter.  The GB Women will need to finish in the top six at the Women’s Softball Europeans to take part in their Olympic Qualifier while the GB Baseball Team will need to finish in the top five at the Baseball Europeans.

Both sports had applied for a grant of £250,000 from the Aspiration Fund, which received applications totalling £4.8 from 20 Olympic and Paralympic sports that do not currently receive funding for their performance programmes from UK Sport.  But the Aspiration Fund pot, announced unexpectedly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in late October, only had £3 million to distribute.

In the end, 14 sports received awards, with the largest amounts going to wheelchair rugby, badminton and table tennis, followed by archery, climbing, fencing, weightlifting, surfing, artistic swimming, skateboarding and goalball.  The lowest grants were to beach volleyball, karate and softball. 

The awards, decided by the UK Sport Board on 5 December, were based on UK Sport’s evaluation of each sport’s potential to qualify a team or individual athletes for the Tokyo Olympics, and also on the social impact that could be produced as a result of an Aspiration Fund grant.

Sports will be able to appeal against Aspiration Fund decisions, and UK Sport has held back £118,496 of the £3 million total to address requests from sports like baseball, that did not receive an award, to help with their next qualification event.

In announcing the awards, UK Sport CEO Liz Nicholl said, “This new Aspiration Fund is a fantastic opportunity for these athletes and sports to get on track for the Tokyo Games.  Many of the sports we are currently unable to support [with performance funding], whilst further away from reaching the podium, have the potential not only to inspire through their performances on the field of play but also to inspire new audiences to engage in sport and activity.   We’d like to thank the Government for their continued support for UK Sport’s mission to inspire the nation through Olympic and Paralympic success.”


Reactions

GB Women’s Team Head Coach Rachael Watkeys said, “I am thrilled to receive some funding, and although it’s not what we asked for it’s certainly better than nothing.  Every penny will help GB Softball to hopefully realise our goal of qualifying for Tokyo 2020.  I said recently that even £50,000 would make a difference, so to get £62,500 is even better.

“It's still sad that players will have to continue to contribute to represent their country," Rachael continued, "but it's great to be able to help them out a little this year with covering some of the summer's costs.  I am hopeful that the money can be used to help the players get better in the lead-up to the European Championship and Olympic Qualifier.  I am also hopeful that if we can use the money well, it will enable some very talented players to remain part of the programme and hopefully encourage others who have struggled in the past to be able to participate.  This will make our team stronger.

“I also see this a sign of confidence that UK Sport recognises that we have a chance for qualification. This is something for us all to be proud of.”
 

For GB Baseball, Head Coach Liam Carroll said, "We asked UK Sport for just a little help on the Road to Tokyo and I’m disappointed that they’re happy for the expense of representing our country to continue coming out of the pockets of our athletes and their families.  This is, however, a story with which we’re familiar and we’ll get on with assembling the best team we can for the 2019 Euros.  Our Mission -- to Inspire, Develop and Perform -- remains unchanged."

"On top of the chance for qualification next September, the fact that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are coming to London in June makes 2019 an even more exciting year for our sport and I hope that the exposure we’ll receive will bring attention to our players as we strive for Tokyo."

"Congratulations to our softball programme,” Liam added.  “They’ve put in a tremendous run of performances and I look forward to their continued success in 2019!

"The first step to qualification for us is a top-five finish at next year’s Euros, and I look forward to continuing to meet with UK Sport in person to convince them of our case for funding.”
 

British Softball Federation President Jenny Fromer added, “While it is of course good news that we have received an award from the Aspiration Fund, I am very disappointed that it was only a quarter of the amount we applied for.  There is a catch-22 in effect when money is withheld based on an assessment of qualification potential, which then makes the route to Olympic qualification even more challenging by dint of less resource.  Of course, any award puts us ahead of where we were yesterday, and we will make good use of it, even if it is not the ‘game-changing’ amount we were hoping for. 

“I do want to acknowledge the greater disappointment for GB Baseball in not being given any help toward their Olympic campaign,” Jenny said, “and very much appreciate their words of support.”

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