The GB Women's Softball Team Is Headed To The World Championships. So Why Don't They Get ANY Funding?

Members of the GB team making a tag at third
Members of the GB team making a tag at third

Great Britain's women's fastpitch softball squad is off to the elite World Championships in Haarlem, Netherlands, this summer - and for those of you unfamiliar with the sport, it's the Olympics of softball.

Which makes it all the more unbelievable that such a talented group of sportswomen, who are ranked fifth in their discipline in Europe, don't receive any government funding. At all.

Softball players were left to fend for themselves after the International Olympics Committee (IOC) voted in 2005 to cut the sport in, along with baseball, from the Olympics. The decision not to reinstate the sport for the 2012 games left players devastated.

"There's kids out there whose dreams could have been reignited," Sarah Jones, who plays second base for the GB team, tells The Huffington Post UK. "Having been an Olympic sport and then taken out again, we realise what the impact of being part of the games means.

"If it was to be reintroduced, I think the sport would have a huge surge in popularity."

The women's fastpitch softball team in high spirits

Currently, the team receives £500 from the British Softball Federation (BSF), and $15,000 from the International Softball Federation (ISF). However, with around 26 people on the squad, including a six-strong coaching team, this barely covers the 10 nights the squad has to spend in hotels. The week-long training camp before the tournament, travel, flights, car rentals, food, first aid and other costs, all have to come out of the team's own pockets. And next year, there will be even less money available.

"This is the last year they [the ISF] are putting that amount towards hotels," says ‎Stanley Doney, who works for the BSF. "Teams will be on their own after this year, and it will be interesting to see what happens."

Despite a dire lack of funding softball, has gone from strength to strength in the UK; there are leagues and tournaments across England, Scotland and Wales, and the sport is making its way into schools and universities.

But, as competing in international tournaments is likely to leave each player at least £1,000 out of pocket, the GB team is struggling to raise the vital finances needed to fund the trip. The lack of funding has even meant talented females have had to drop out of the squad.

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GB women's fastpitch softball

"I have known players in the past who have had to pull out due to costs and they’re players who would have been a great asset to the team," Jones adds. The 31-year-old has been forced to fund her trip herself this year, as she has been unsuccessful with raising money through funding pages or donations from the public.

"It's extremely hard to raise money and it’s difficult to ask friends and family over and over again to help out," she continues.

"The World Championships is softball’s highest event to play in. We are representing the country against the world’s best players and any funding would really help make the financial impact on the players easier.

"I have a full time job to try and support my softball career. It's hard. Better government funding would just be a nice present to have for all the hard work that’s been put in for a sporting career I love."

Hayley Scott, who has been the team's head coach since 2009, says she has had several players who have withdrawn due to funding - difficult when you're competing on a world stage.

"There aren't many competitive women's team events," she says. "These women are committed athletes and passionate about their sport, with their growth only being hindered by funding.

"My staff take personal leave from work so they lose their holiday, possible income and still have to pay to travel with the team. With funding we could run training camps and compete in preliminary events. At the moment, due to costs, we can only do pre-tournament camps, a few games and the main tournament for that year, with this one being worlds in Haarlem."

The squad will be up against competitors from the USA and Japan, among others, where players will have grown up playing on softball diamonds, with equipment readily available. The GB squad have Farnham Park; the one purpose built community softball complex in the whole of the UK - which only opened last year.

"Funding would be nice so we can grow the sport and have decent training facilities to practise on."

Students from local schools play at Farnham Park

Not only is Great Britain losing out on gifted softball players representing the country due to lack of funding, but Jones is worried the dire financial situation will jeopardise the sport's future.

"I think softball will start to decrease in numbers," she says. "I look at countries like USA, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, where they have funding for softball and the participation numbers are huge. Their women’s team have lots of trainings together and I see what GB could grow to be if only we had a helping start.

"I really do think more people would get involved if we had proper funding. Even if the funding is just to build new facilities to train on and pay to advertise softball. We could even have players in the team to do showcases where we could attract young kids."

And softball isn't just taking off in the UK; the ISF has committed to extending the reach of the sport worldwide. In recent years, the sport has become popular among Muslim women, as softball can be played in discreet dress. As a result, there are now more than 15 cities in Iran alone which promote participation in softball.

A survey from 2013 revealed more than a third of UK students want to try American sports at school, so the demand is certainly there.

Jones adds: "Funding could change softball from being a minority sport in the UK to being an outlet for kids to play a different sport other than the mainstream ones in the UK."

Scott agrees, saying more financial support would grow programs and develop youth and adult athletes. "Many British Olympic and smaller programs are funded, especially for training, medical and events. I do not think it is fair we have only missed one Olympic cycle since softball was removed, however we still compete in large scale events and deserve the same support.

"It will be tough to recruit quality athletes from schools," she continues. "We need to get universities with scholarship programs like the states so it add incentives to young boys and girls and parents."

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