LONDON, England - The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) campaign to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games has received a major boost with official opening weekend activities at the first dedicated national baseball and softball venue in Britain.
The facility, which features a full size international standard baseball field and three softball/youth baseball fields, has been designed to encourage young people and women and girls into the sports from Britain's vibrant multicultural communities.
The demand for the new facility also highlights the increasing popularity of the two sports amongst women and young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, in the United Kingdom and across Europe, which has seen rapid growth in softball and baseball over recent years in these important, non-traditional new territories and markets.
The opening ceremony for the venue on Saturday at Farnham Park, in Slough, near London, was the culmination of planning by BaseballSoftballUK, and funding from Sport England, the UK Government's sports development body.
The state of the art facility was also jointly financed by the Baseball Tomorrow Fund of Major League Baseball (MLB) which, along with other professional leagues around the world, is providing important support and backing for the WBSC campaign for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.
"The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is thrilled to award BaseballSoftballUK this grant that assisted in the creation of a new facility at Farnham Park Sports Ground," said Cathy Bradley, Executive Director of the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. "It is exciting to have a new complex in the United Kingdom and our hope is that a facility such as this will continue to introduce kids to the pastime and grow the games of baseball and softball."
The new facility will also support the creation of a new after-school program in the community and a girls fast-pitch softball league. The complex will be considered the "home" of British baseball and softball and will host local, regional and national tournaments and training for more than 1,000 youth, ages 8-16, year-round.
"This is the first facility of its kind here in the United Kingdom, and has been in part funded by Sport England and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, and is part of BaseballSoftballUK's highly successful vision for the sports to be played in every park - a growth strategy that has seen the number of regularly playing baseball and softballers double over the past four years from 10,000 to 20,000," said John Boyd, Joint CEO and Head of Development at BaseballSoftballUK.
"This is a momentous achievement that will further attract athletes to our sport in the UK and underpin baseball and softball's continued rise in Europe and worldwide emergence," said WBSC co-Presidents Riccardo Fraccari and Don Porter.
"We fully support the single baseball/softball venue concept, as WBSC is proposing a streamlined shared venue for the 2020 Olympic Games. The forward-thinking Farnham Park project highlights the significant benefits and realities of baseball and softball's partnership and long-term sustainability," the co-Presidents added.
A similar modern concept baseball and softball venue is set to be completed in March 2014 at "Park 21" in the Amsterdam metropolitan region, while in May 2012, the first international standard ballpark in France was inaugurated just south of Paris in Senart.
At the professional level, baseball and softball are a $20 billion business worldwide, and are among the leading professional sports, which helps stimulate new construction projects.
Baseball is broadcast into 200 countries and the sport and its audiences are continuing to globalise and grow in key regions of the world including India, Africa, Middle East, Caribbean, South America, and China as well as Europe and has 250 million fans worldwide.
The World Cup of Softball held last weekend in Oklahoma City was broadcast by ESPN into more than 140 countries.
If included, softball and baseball would be unlike any other sport at the 2020 Olympic Games, bringing new and unique sporting skills and qualities to Olympic fans and viewers as the only bat and ball sport at the Games, helping to balance and diversify the Olympic programme and Olympic Games experience.
With 65 million active players around the world at various levels, baseball and softball currently ranks as the largest sport not on the Olympic programme, and with the full support and resources of the sport's professional partners, the potential for baseball and softball to become the next great global game is very real.
"The World Baseball Softball Confederation regards the Olympic Games as the highest honour and greatest goal for every athlete and sport, and we will place our full global resources and passion for the Games at the service of the Olympic Movement," WBSC co-presidents Fraccari and Porter said.