By Baseball Softball UK
Sport England’s announcement about its latest round of major investments designed to get more people playing sport regularly includes substantial sums for grassroots and talent development for baseball and softball.
BaseballSoftballUK (BSUK), which will receive a two-year award of just under £1.1 million for development work, and a four-year award of £175,000 for talent progression, is a development agency that has been working on behalf of the British Baseball and British Softball Federations since it was founded by the sports in 2000. BSUK has received major funding awards from Sport England since 2005.
The award for grassroots development is to sustain and grow current participation in the two sports, after an eight-year period in which BSUK more than doubled the number of regular players and exceeded its Sport England targets
Following four years of great success by BSUK’s Academy and High Performance Academy (HPA), enabled through a modest Sport England grant from 2013-17, Sport England has now increased its investment in recognition of this success and the potential impact of the talent programme on those athletes aspiring to national team selection at a time when qualification tournaments for the Tokyo Olympics are only two years away.
Core Market Award: £1,098,800 to 2019
Sport England’s development funding will support baseball and softball’s 24,000 regular players to keep playing the sports by providing new and emerging playing opportunities for women’s and girls’ fastpitch and for both sports in universities, workplace settings and youth programmes. The funding will also help get more people playing at all levels and provide a substantial boost to BSUK’s participation programme, Hit the Pitch.
Baseball and softball have a significant fan base in the UK, with as many as 1.5 million people registering as interested in the sports. A key element of BaseballSoftballUK’s work over the next two years will be to provide playing opportunities to as many of those fans as possible and, critically, to people who do not yet know that they want to play the sports.
Baseball and softball have proved to be appealing to many people that other sports struggle to reach — women and girls and the gay community in particular. Many players come to the sports in early adulthood, when they move to a new city, start at university or join a new company. Sport England’s investment into the sports will allow BSUK to continue its development programming in these key areas.
BaseballSoftballUK CEO John Boyd said: “BaseballSoftballUK very much appreciates the vote of confidence given to us by Sport England, especially as our plan has essentially been funded in full. Women and girls, LGBT sport and young people are areas of primary importance to us and we are pleased with Sport England’s nod to the importance of these areas alongside traditional sports provision. The funding will provide vital resources for our work to grow participation and will provide us with an opportunity to accentuate even further our existing strengths. It will also help us to find or create alternative funding streams for wider development.”
Talent Award: £175,00 to 2021
In 2013, baseball and softball were awarded their first talent investment from Sport England. This grant was used to great effect over the next four years, and allowed BaseballSoftballUK’s High Performance Academy to be set up. In a short period of time, the HPA has made significant contributions to the development of talented young athletes and contributed in no small way to the quality of the national team programmes in place for baseball and fastpitch softball.
The new talent award by Sport England has been made on a four-year basis to provide stability to the programme, allowing for enhancements within the current Olympic cycle leading to Tokyo 2020, where baseball and softball have been restored to the Olympic programme. Sport England has also left the door open to additional funds being provided should either the baseball or fastpitch softball national teams be successful in receiving UK Sport funding.
Sian Wigington, a member of the High Performance Academy and the Great Britain Fastpitch Softball National Team, said: “I am focused on being a part of a women’s fastpitch team competing for a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The investment that Sport England has already made into the talent programme helped me get closer to this goal. Last year, the Great Britain Junior National Team won our first-ever European Championship gold medal, and the preparations my teammates and I were able to make thanks to Sport England investment into the High Performance Academy was vital to this success. As our work to qualify for Tokyo progresses, and on behalf of all of the baseball and softball athletes in the High Performance Academy, I’d like to thank Sport England for increasing your support to us.”