The importance of the Great Britain national team within British baseball, including the potential benefits of a possible World Baseball Classic spot in 2013, is being argued as the British Baseball Federation (BBF) continues to consider its budget for the coming years.
It is now known that the recent proposals of, and resignations by, Great Britainâ€™s General Manager Alan Smith and Head Coach Stephan Rapaglia were prompted by the BBF Boardâ€™s preliminary decision not to meet the funding commitments required to field a competitive national team for the foreseeable future.Â Smith and Rapaglia were informed that the proposed 2010 national team budget would not be met and that the final year of Rapagliaâ€™s four-year contract would not be honoured, although both were also informed that the Board wished for them to continue working with Team GB.
Smith and Rapaglia responded by submitting an alternative outline of how the BBF could continue to support the national team.Â In this, the only contribution to the national effort from BBF membership money would involve redirecting part of the Â£5,000 that would be saved by Rapagliaâ€™s removal from a salaried position to the European Championship and the junior team budgets, the latter seen as being a vitally important part of investing in the sportâ€™s future.Â
When no formal response was received from the BBF Board, the detailed proposal, referred to as a Statement of Intent, was submitted to the Board to be accepted or rejected, alongside the resignations of Smith and Rapaglia from their posts as of 28 February: the date of the BBF Annual General Meeting.Â
A new plan for Team GB
Following the achievements of winning a silver medal at the 2007 European Baseball Championships and participating in last yearâ€™s Baseball World Cup, the BBF and those involved with Team GB are now facing difficult decisions on how to keep the team moving forward.Â Recent funding has been exhausted and the World Cup campaign partly relied on scraping by on the last remnants of the Olympic Solidarity grant.Â A new plan for the future of Great Britainâ€™s national team is needed and therein lays the crux of the matter.Â
In explaining their initial position, the BBF Board recognised the achievements of the national team under Smith and Rapaglia and reinforced this by expressing their desire for the pair to continue their involvement.Â However, the Board proposed that this would be in the context of voluntary roles with a budget that restricts the teamâ€™s ability to be competitive, whilst requiring players to make substantial contributions to fund the teamâ€™s European Championship campaign.
Smith and Rapaglia responded by accepting that financial concerns lay at the heart of the BBF Boardâ€™s thinking, yet they urged them to reconsider.Â Â They argue that the national team has made great strides recently and that these should be built on rather than left to go to waste.Â Cutting the budget now is considered short-sighted, not least due to the very real possibility of Great Britainâ€™s entry in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which would be eliminated if Team GBâ€™s international standing slips in the preceding years.Â This looks a certainty if the national team is not adequately funded.Â
Budget and quota
The most recent GB budget trailed that of their European counterparts, yet the team has been able to remain competitive and the hope is that, with hard work and support from all quarters, this can continue.Â Smith and Rapaglia are not proposing to increase the budget and the proposals are framed within the realities of the limited funding that is available. In fact, only one of the ten proposed measures, that of redirecting Rapagliaâ€™s salary, would involve using BBF membership monies.Â
They accept that players would have to contribute to the European Championship budget without additional funding being sourced, although understandably they want this to be kept to a minimum due to the impact this would have on roster selection.Â They also propose that players should be allowed to receive a commission on their own fund-raising efforts and to obtain guarantees that the funds would be used solely for the European Championship budget.
Once a budget has been set, the proposal requests that the Senior Team staff are then allowed to manage the teamâ€™s affairs as they see fit.Â Smith and Rapaglia have included the provision of a quota that will ensure that â€œnot less than 25% of the roster consists of Britain-based playersâ€, which could be an important part of linking the national team with the BBF leagues.Â Bearing in mind that the BBF should be encouraging its best players to better themselves by playing abroad and/or attending colleges in the States, it is hoped that â€œBritain-basedâ€ would be defined broadly so that players who are not currently in Britain due to seeking playing opportunities elsewhere would be covered by it.Â
Team GB benefits
One of the most compelling reasons to maintain a national team of decent standing is that it gives young ballplayers, such as those now competing in places like Horsham and Herts, something to aspire to.Â Seeing the national team fall back into the lower reaches of the European ranks simply due to a lack of funding therefore would be a bitter blow to the sportâ€™s future. Â The link between youth baseball and the national team would be reinforced under the new proposals, through the 25 per cent quota and the allocation of additional funds to the junior team programme.
A competitive international team also is the most effective way to promote the sport in this country on anything beyond a localised level. Â Â It is frustrating that the sportâ€™s profile, and the subsequent funding/sponsorship opportunities created, hasnâ€™t increased much thanks to their recent tournament performances, except for the publicity afforded by Team GBâ€™s games being broadcast on Eurosport2.Â Promoting the national team is something that could be done more effectively than at present in a way that would benefit all baseball clubs, although this can only happen if the national team is performing at a competitive level.
The future of the national team will be discussed at the upcoming AGM.Â The BBF Boardâ€™s position is financially motivated and in these tough economic times the need to question every bit of expenditure is not only welcome but essential.Â However, further investigation has revealed that the proposals would keep BBF membership funding of the national effort to a minimum and that it is not a case of the Board needing to choose between funding the domestic game or the national team.Â Nor should it be.Â The two must go hand-in-hand for either to be successful in the long run.Â
If the BBF Board decides not to help fund a competitive national team, they will need to show how they will successfully promote the sport and encourage development at youth levels with the relatively small amount of money saved, while the senior national team slips from its current position back into the lower levels of European competition.