2020 in Review - Softball: Olympic Softball architect Don Porter passes away; U-18 Men only World Cup played in disrupted year

2020 in Review - Softball: Olympic Softball architect Don Porter passes away; U-18 Men only World Cup played in disrupted year
The fourth feature in the End of Year Review series takes a look back at the Softball season, which was marked by the loss of the legendary softball leader and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The 2020 international softball calendar started with all guns blazing in the early months of the year. The WBSC U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup was to lead an historic year, highlighted by softball's much expected return to the Olympic Games.

However, softball activity -- much like the rest of the sports world -- was abruptly halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, leading to an unprecedented 2020 sports year that will be remembered for decades.

Don Porter passes away

Even in a unique year like this, one news shocked and saddened the softball world: Former International Softball Federation (ISF) President and World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Co-President Don PORTER passed away on Sunday, 7 June, in his hometown of Oklahoma City (OK), USA. He was 90 years old.

“The WBSC and the entire softball community mourn the loss of Don Porter, the main architect of the internationalization of softball,” said WBSC President Riccardo FRACCARI. “Through his vision, efforts and decades of service, softball became an Olympic sport for the first time in 1996. He helped to establish, build and name the WBSC. He will be remembered forever as one of the most influential leaders in the history of the sport of softball, which is now played in over 130 countries around the world.”

National federations, sports leaders, fans and athletes expressed their condolences, and the WBSC Executive Board paid tribute to the legendary softball leader.

Porter’s memory was also celebrated on World Softball Day, on 13 June (created by Porter in 2005 to commemorate the day when softball was officially included for the first time in the Olympic Programme), and also during the inauguration of the new WBSC Headquarters (one of the biggest milestones in the WBSC’s history), when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas BACH joined President Fraccari to honour Porter's memory with a tree-planting ceremony.

“I cannot think of a better example of an advocate for a sport, and if I could summarise Don in three words they would be: integrity, passion, commitment,” expressed Fraccari.

International softball season

The first international softball competition of the year was the WBSC-sanctioned Australia Pacific Cup from 30 January to 2 February, with four Olympic teams on the field. A total of seven teams participated in the event, including Australia (two teams), Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Chinese Taipei. Japan dominated the tournament, winning all of their eight games played throughout the week behind a brilliant performance by two-way player FUJITA Yamato.

From 22 February to 1 March, the WBSC U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup was played in Palmerston North, New Zealand, with the top players from 12 different nations. When the first pitch of the tournament was thrown at Colqhoun Park, nobody suspected it would be the only official WBSC event of the year.

The other Softball World Cup scheduled for 2020 was the inaugural WBSC U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup in Lima, Peru. The event, which had been slated to be played from 23-30 August, was postponed for the first time on 1 April, and three months later was definitively moved to 2021.

The plan was to play the event in March 2021. However, the current global situation with the pandemic forced the WBSC and the LOC to schedule the event later in the year to 28 August to 5 September.

However, it wouldn’t be the only international softball event that couldn’t be held in 2020.

Tokyo 2020 (in 2021)

On 24 March, the IOC made an historic announcement: The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would be postponed, and less than a week later confirmed that the next Summer Games would be staged from 23 July to 3 August 2021.

Tokyo 2020's postponement shocked the sports world. Baseball and softball athletes from around the world reacted to the news. “The WBSC stands in solidarity with the Olympic Movement and Japan during this challenging time, and will remain fully flexible about its own events, including Olympic qualifiers, to accommodate the rescheduling of the Tokyo 2020 Game,” said WBSC President Fraccari.

With all six participating teams already qualified for Tokyo 2020 (Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico and USA), softball will have the honour of being the first event to take place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next year on 21 July after the Organising Committee confirmed details of the updated Olympic softball competition schedule.

The first six games of the Olympic softball competition will be played in Fukushima, a region that has been undergoing a continued regeneration following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. “We are humbled and honoured that softball will open the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and do so in a city that embodies, more than any other, sport’s unique power to unite and rebuild communities -- this will send a powerful message of Olympic values to all spectators around the world,” said Fraccari.

International calendar changed

The postponement of the Olympic Games generated a wave of postponements. The WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup 2021 was moved two years to 2023 to keep the spotlight on 2021 Olympics, with the World Games recognised as the top women’s softball international competition in 2022.

The pandemic also affected the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup. Originally scheduled for 20-28 February 2021, the premier men’s softball tournament in the world was postponed one year and will be held in Auckland in 2022.

On the men’s softball side, the WBSC awarded the hosting rights of the maiden U-23 Men's Softball World Cup 2021 to Argentina.

Leagues around the world

The first softball league in the world to be back on the field after the COVID-19 outbreak was the Taiwan Professional Women’s Softball League (TPWSL) on 25 April 2020. After an 80-game season and two playoffs series, the Kananan Eagles defeated the New Century Wasps, 6-1, in game seven of the TPWSL to grab the third league title in the team’s history.

Other positive news in 2020 was the inaugural season of the innovative Athletes Unlimited Softball League, which opened in August. Highlighted by the two-time Olympic medallist Cat OSTERMAN and 11 WBSC world champions, the season had more than 56 of the top players in the world competing in 30 games across five weeks. After the season, Osterman was crowned as the first Athletes Unlimited champion.

The third and last professional softball league to open its season was the Japanese Softball League, after the cancellation of the first half of the season. Japanese ace UENO Yukiko dominated the playoffs and led Bic Camera Bee Queen to back-to-back titles.

The summer allowed most of the European softball leagues to complete shortened seasons. The first international games after the pandemic were played in European soil, with the Netherlands beating Germany in a six-game WBSC-sanctioned series.

End of Year Review series

2020 - Baseball: An international baseball season like no other
2020 - U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup: Japan wins lone global baseball/softball event in 2020
2020 - Development: Global baseball-softball development doesn’t stop amid global pandemic
2019 WBSC Congress one-year progress report: An unforgettable year in many ways
2019: Year in Review