Funding cloud hovers over world title bid
The Black Sox will be playing for more than a gold medal at the upcoming men's softball world championship - their funding future could depend on winning the tournament.
Softball New Zealand general manager Dane Dougan said victory at the International Softball Federation tournament, which starts in Auckland on Friday, would go a long way to securing continued support from New Zealand's major sports funding agencies.
The Black Sox, ranked second in the world, get $200,000 a year from High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) to fund tours and training camps.
The New Zealand White Sox women's squad, ranked 13th, get nothing.
Their players had to pay more than $7000 each to participate in the 2009 world championship in Canada.
Carded athletes in the Black Sox squad are also eligible for Performance Enhancement Grants (Pegs) and can apply for Prime Minister's scholarships to help fund study or vocational programmes aimed at preparing them for life after softball.
Eligibility for the grants and scholarships will be reviewed after the end of the world championship on March 10, leaving some softballers in the middle of their study programmes, in limbo.
Dougan said the HPSNZ funding was guaranteed till the end of 2013 "but most of that will be spent after the world champs, as it should be, because that's our pinnacle event".
"We have put an application in for continued funding and we are working with High Performance Sport New Zealand about where softball is [in their funding priorities].
"A lot of that will depend on the result at the world championships. That will have a major bearing. That makes sense to me."
Dougan said SNZ wasn't complaining.
"We knew that was going to be the case. It's not a surprise."
Players' eligibility for the grants and scholarships would also be dependent on the world championship result, he said.
Losing their HPSNZ funding would severely compromise the Black Sox's ability to tour North America where the best competition is based.
Black Sox players - who have enjoyed government funding support since winning their third successive world title in 2004 - would find themselves in a pay-to-play situation like their White Sox counterparts.
Dougan agreed the impact on the Black Sox international programme would be significant.
He said winning back the world title from Australia was the team's paramount goal but securing ongoing funding could also be an extra incentive.
Pitcher Jeremy Manley, who is using a Prime Minister's scholarship to study sports science and management and coaching in the United States, said it "won't be our main motivation but it's in the back [of the mind] there".
The 30-year-old from Feilding, who now lives near Bloomington, Illinois, has "two semesters to go" and would need to find another funding source to complete his studies.
The Black Sox - many of whom play in North America, Japan or Europe during the New Zealand winter - are now members of the Players Association, which represents New Zealand's professional rugby players, cricketers and netballers.
Dougan was upbeat about the Black Sox's chances of success at the world championship where titleholders Australia, Canada, Japan, Argentina, the United States, Venezuela and Samoa shape as their chief rivals.
"They seem to be peaking at the right time."
The Black Sox have lost games to Samoa, an All Stars combination and the Auckland Ramblers and Hutt Valley Dodgers club teams at buildup tournaments in Auckland.
But the best Black Sox squad yet assembled lost twice to Canterbury in 2004 before going on to win the world title.