26/11/2022 - 04/12/2022

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XVII Men's Softball World Cup 2022 - Official Payoff

Federation Focus: New Zealand where softball is tradition and innovation

Federation Focus: New Zealand where softball is tradition and innovation
24/11/2022
The fourth Men's Softball World Cup played on the country's soil will open on 26 November. Softball New Zealand believes Fastball 45, a faster-paced version of the game, is an ideal vehicle to attract new members.

The ninth episode of the Federation Focus series gives us the chance to meet the New Zealand Softball Association.

When the XVII WBSC Men's Softball World Cup opens on 26 November in Rosedale, a suburb on the north shore of Auckland, it will be the fourth time New Zealand hosts the event, after 1976 in Lower Hutt, 2004 in Christchurch and 2013 in Auckland.

"The road to the World Cup has not been without its challenges," commented Softball New Zealand Softball Manager Glen Roff. "The global pandemic has forced the event to be rescheduled twice with the current date not without jeopardy. However, we have persevered and are now all but days away from the opening ceremony."

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The 2021 Federation Focus series

The Black Sox are the most successful men's softball national team having won seven World Cups and earned four silver and two bronze medals.

The Black Sox are one of four men's National Teams. The Major Sox are the U-23 team, the Junior Black Sox compete domestically in the U-19 age bracket and the Developing Sox play at the U-15 level.

New Zealand is among the four winners of the Women's Softball World Cup, a tournament dominated by the United States (11 wins). The other world titles have gone to Japan (3) and Australia.

The White Sox won the fifth edition in 1982 and have also earned one silver and two bronze medals. New Zealand hosted the Women's World Cup in 1986.

The White Sox are one of three women's National Teams. The Junior White Sox compete domestically in the U-19 age bracket, and the Developing Sox play at the U-15 level.

Softball is a very well-known sport in New Zealand, a country which fans worldwide mostly associate with the mighty rugby All Blacks.

"The sporting landscape has become far more competitive in the last decade with more options now available for people to choose from," added Roff. "Yes, rugby is considered the national game, but other codes such as soccer, netball and basketball are greater or equal in terms of participation numbers.

*The increase in the Asian population has seen a substantial uptick in racket sports, such as badminton which is very popular with youth. A recent drive to encourage more females into sports has resulted in significant growth for the likes of athletics, rugby and cricket. Sports offering a semi or professional pathway attract greater female numbers to their sports. Softball itself would sit somewhere around the top 20 sports in New Zealand to play. Softball's summer competition is cricket, touch rugby and waka ama."

American soldiers introduced New Zealand to softball in 1935. W.H. Wilson of the Ford Motor Company, who had played the game in the United States, deserves the credit for spreading the knowledge of softball.

The game's popularity grew rapidly, and the first organised competitions took place in the summer of 1937. The New Zealand Baseball and Softball Council was formed at a meeting at Kelvin Gymnasium in Wellington on 11 January 1938.

Nowadays, the New Zealand Softball Association oversees 20 associations and 125 clubs, with a total affiliated membership of 20,000, of which 60% are male.

"Historical participation data shows that the male game has always been stronger than the female game," added Roff. "No research has ever been undertaken to understand why this is so. Both genders are offered the same opportunities and pathways. In New Zealand, softball is considered a dual membership sport, unlike the rest of the world, where the game is more female-orientated."

While softball has been New Zealand's traditional diamond sport, baseball has recently joined the scene. For Softball New Zealand its a win-win situation with more opportunities to play in one of the country's most popular outdoor sports.

"Softball and baseball are separate entities in New Zealand," Roth said. "A few clubs offer softball and baseball opportunities, most of which are in the Auckland area, and it is common for players to play both codes, i.e., softball on Saturday and baseball on Sunday. In general, the two sports tend to attract different demographics."

The softball season in New Zealand will start over in January 2023, with the U-17 and U-19 boys and girls National Championships scheduled in January. The Men's and Women's Open Club and Secondary Schools Championships are scheduled in March.

The Fastball 45 Finals are scheduled for 18 and 19 February. Fastball 45 is intended as a higher-paced and intense version of softball. Traditional rules have been broken and radicalised. The goal is to increase game time with the ball in play and scoring opportunities.

Modified rules include the duration of the game set at 45 minutes or four innings, runners starting on base every inning, and runners able to lead off earlier. A double play clears an inning. A successful squeeze play awards double points.

Each team is allowed one offensive power play, which means that the team on defence will have to remove one player from the field for the next two batters.

Softball NZ are of the view that the Fastball 45 rules are an ideal vehicle to attract new members to the game, particularly at the youth level.