A tournament that will help determine which teams qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympic softball tournament could be coming to South Surrey next summer.
Earlier this month, on the final day of the Canada Cup tournament at Softball City – won by Canada for the first time since 1996 – event chairman Gregg Timm announced that the tournament’s organizing committee would be bidding for the right to host the 2019 Americas Olympic qualifier.
The winner of that tournament would be one of six teams to earn a berth into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – the first time the sport has been part of the Games since 2008.
Timm told Peace Arch News he expects to hear sometime this week if Softball Canada has chosen Surrey as its bid city; each country interested in hosting can put forward one city.
“Team Canada and Softball Canada would prefer to have the qualifier at home, in Canada, because in the past, they’ve had issues with food, transportation and even in some cases, security, in some of the South American nations,” Timm said.
“Softball Canada has several options, (several) host committees who have said they’d consider hosting it, and we are one of them.”
The next step, Timm said, is for committee members to contact its community partners and sponsors to see if “there is an appetite to support” the bid.
Of the six teams that will compete in 2020, one has already been decided – Japan is in, as the host country. The second qualifier will be named later this month at the conclusion of the 2018 Women’s World Softball Championships in Chiba, Japan, with the winner earning a spot.
The remaining four spots will be determined at qualifying tournaments next year. One team will come from a European/Africa qualifier, Timm explained, with another coming from an Asia/Oceania tournament that will include teams such as Australia – typically a world softball powerhouse – New Zealand, China and Chinese Taipei, among others.
The final two spots will be given to teams at the Americas qualifier. This region gets two berths, Timm told PAN, because it has the most registered nations competing in the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Canada is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, behind only Japan in second and the United States at the top. If Canada wins the world championships – which begin Thursday and run until Aug. 12 – they won’t play in the Americas qualifier, but if they don’t win this month “they’ll be there” Timm said.
Other teams that could be at the Americas tournament include the United States – if they don’t win this year’s world championship – Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
In addition to those top contenders, Timm said the field will be filled out with other countries that decide to play, as well as four countries that are required to field teams.
“There’s several countries, as we’ve learned, that must attend every qualifier in every sport in order to get any Olympic money,” Timm said.
“One of these teams, as it was explained to us, is the British Virgin Islands. They must attend the softball qualifier if they want any money for their track-and-field team to go to the Olympics.”
Surrey’s bid for the event is likely to be boosted by the fact that organizers had successfully bid for, and ran, the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championships, which featured a record number of teams and was won by Team USA.
“We’re well known to the WBSC because of the world championships, so they know our ability, they know our park, our community – those are all ticks in the (right) box for us,” Timm explained.
“It’s financials, quite honestly. Can we… afford to do it? Can we get access to money? Do we have partnerships we can draw on? These are the things we’re testing right now.
“It’s a fairly expensive tournament to run – you have to pay for all housing, food and ground transport for all competitors and officials for a 10 to 14-team tournament.”
If Surrey is chosen by Softball Canada – and in turn, then selected over other countries by the WBSC in September – Timm said the likely date for the event would be in late August 2019.
It wouldn’t, he predicted, affect the Canada Cup tournament in July. However, setting a date for the 2019 Canada Cup is still in a holding pattern until the Americas qualifier details are ironed out – whether Canada is selected or not.
“Because of this wild card of the Olympic qualifier, until somebody wins the bid… we can’t properly set the date (for the Canada Cup). Because somebody else in another region – say, the Dominican – could say, ‘We want the qualifying tournament to be right in the middle of July.’ Then teams wouldn’t come here before or after, so these things all matter,” he explained.
Should the event come to Surrey, Timm expected the support to be strong from the local softball community. The 2016 world championships were well-attended, as is the Canada Cup each summer.
“As we’ve learned since the Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Canadians want to clap their hands for the red and white more than anything,” he said.
Though the 2019 qualifier would have a smaller field than did the ‘16 worlds, Timm said it would be an even higher-profile event.
“When you have the Olympic rings flying in your city because it’s an official IOC event, it’s got a certain elevated sense of importance to it,” he said.
“Smaller tournament, higher stakes.”