By Bob Fromer
The idea of holding a European Slowpitch Championship (in a continent that almost
exclusively plays fastpitch) began to be promoted to the ESF by the British and Irish Softball
Federations in the mid-1990s. The ESF finally agreed to the idea in 1997, with the first
tournament planned for 1998 – but many ESF members were cynical and predicted that it
would be difficult to achieve the minimum number of countries (four) required for a
European Championship to be held.
Great Britain, as the main proponent of the idea, had little choice but to put their money
where their mouth was and volunteer to host the first edition.
And so, in August 1998, the first European Slowpitch Championship was held on a distinctly
makeshift field at Brunel University on the outskirts of London, with Great Britain, the Czech
Republic, Ireland and Guernsey as the competing teams. Early that year, both The
Netherlands and Israel had signed up for the tournament, but both withdrew in the weeks
before the competition, with the Israelis citing religious concerns about having a mixed team
and playing games on Saturday.
Fortunately, the Czech Softball Federation pledged from the very beginning that they would
support the concept, and they have been true to their word: there has been a Czech team at
every one of the five tournaments played to date, and only Great Britain and Ireland can say
the same. The fact that the Czechs came from the continent of Europe to play in the first-ever
tournament (while the three other teams all came from this side of the English Channel) gave
the event a credibility that has been vital to its continued existence.
And so five European Slowpitch Championships have been played to date, and here are the
bare statistics – the dates, places and competing countries:
1998 in Uxbridge, London, England
Great Britain, Czech Republic, Guernsey, Ireland
2000 in Maynooth, Dublin, Ireland
Great Britain, Czech Republic, Germany, Guernsey, Ireland
2002 in Mlade Buky, Czech Republic
Great Britain, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Slovakia
2004 in Linz, Austria
Great Britain, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland
2006 in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Great Britain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovenia
Great Britain has won the competition on all five occasions, and there is a perception that it’s
been easy – that of course Britain will win every time because we play more slowpitch and
have more slowpitch teams by far than any other country in Europe.
The reality is very different. Great Britain did win easily in Ireland in 2000, when a dominant
team swept all opposition before it and had only one close game in the whole competition.
But GB only won in 1998 and 2002 by the skin of their teeth, and the team faced serious
challenges in 2004 and 2006.
So the European Slowpitch Championship is certainly a competition worth playing – and with
interest in slowpitch growing in Europe, it shouldn’t take long before more countries will
have medal aspirations. The fact that a European Slowpitch Cup got off the ground in 2007
is another good sign.
But European slowpitch competitions will be perpetually under threat while only a small
number of countries enter and even fewer are prepared to host them. What money there is in
European softball on the Continent – and this will of course diminish following Olympic
exclusion – still goes almost entirely to fastpitch, with slowpitch as an afterthought. This
makes international slowpitch competition difficult to sustain.
But there are hopes that the 2008 European Slowpitch Championship, when the tournament
“comes home” to Britain, might see as many as eight countries competing and mark the point
when slowpitch becomes genuinely established as a viable competition format in Europe.
Meanwhile, let’s look back at the five tournaments held over the past decade: