Special meeting to debate softball direction

NICHOLAS BOYACK
Last updated 10:41 20/11/2012

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Hutt Valley Softball is backing a widely circulated report calling for a major revamp of the way the game is being run in New Zealand.

Softball New Zealand (SNZ) has agreed to call a special general meeting to discuss "Rebuilding Our Foundations", which has the backing of 10 associations and a number of prominent administrators.

Newly-elected Hutt Valley chairman Nick Cooper says the game is in decline and the stage has been reached where change is needed.

He strenuously denies it is an attack on SNZ or its chief executive Dane Dougan.

"It is about having an open and healthy debate . . . it is not just about SNZ, it is about softball in New Zealand."

He views next year's World Series in Auckland as crucial to the future of the game and wants the sport to be in a position to exploit the hoped-for victory.

Cooper's background in the code goes back more than 20 years, when he played for Hutt Valley Marist.

Since then softball has struggled due to the impact of touch rugby, loss of sponsorship and a decline in the number of clubs.

SNZ recently suffered a major setback, losing $300,000 in pokie funding, which resulted in five redundancies.

Despite all the problems, Cooper says softball has many positives and he believes it can regain its lustre. It is a family sport that anyone can play at a social level and he wants a return to the days of community leagues.

In the Hutt Valley, the code has virtually no presence in schools and he says that has to change.

The code also needs to sell itself better and exploit the successful record of the Black Sox and its top players like Mark Sorenson.

Overall, he says the code has lost its way and it now lacks vision.

That comes from a lack of leadership at the top.

Softballers are a passionate lot and Cooper says those running the game need to tap into that passion and goodwill for the benefit of the game.

The sport also needs to sell itself better and be able to demonstrate to sponsors and funding agencies that it deserves their support.

The document on softball's problems - Rebuilding the Foundation (see back page) - has the support of 10 associations including Hutt Valley and Wellington, and carries the names of a number of softball stalwarts, including Mike Walsh.

It calls for a change manager to re-energise the game and says it is time to acknowledge: The code lacks a clear vision and strong leadership at the top.

That SNZ is not delivering the services the associations need.

Softball lacks a strategy to grow the game and retain players.

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It predicts a poor future if there is no change.

"Sadly, the growth and health of our sport has waned and is now in a precarious position. We are at a crossroads for softball in New Zealand. If our declining fortunes are not addressed in a short period of time, then our sport could be totally derailed and we will lose the ability to effectively grow and retain our position as a leading sport in our community and country."

The report describes the current situation as "serious" and suggests there is "only a short window" available.

"The entrepreneurs and leaders that still retain faith in our game must be given the opportunity to create a vision, fill the current strategic vacuum and address where are heading in the sport."

Softball New Zealand boss Dane Dougan is taking a positive approach to Rebuilding the Foundations.

He says SNZ is happy to discuss the concerns raised as long as it is about improving the game and not personalities.

Debate is always healthy and he plans to go to the special general meeting with an open mind.

The document shows how passionate softballers are about the game and he says if SNZ can harness that passion, it has to be good for the game.

At the same time, he says people have to be realistic and understand the sporting environment is changing.

All codes are facing an environment where getting funding is tough and people are moving away from organised sport into recreational activities such as mountain biking.

The recent loss of pokie funding had nothing to with poor communication from SNZ and pokie funding is never guaranteed, he says.

Although the code is going through a tough patch, he believes there are still many positives.

Playing numbers are steady at about 30,000 and the Black Sox are a good bet to win next year's World Series.

The women's team is showing improvement and at the Under 19 Junior World Series last year, the girls finished a creditable fifth.

He agrees that SNZ can make better use of the success of the Black Sox but says that is hard when they seldom play in New Zealand. The special general meeting will be held in Lower Hutt on December 15.

- Hutt News

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