SNZ president backs crisis meeting over sport's direction

Softball New Zealand's own president has gone to bat for provincial associations seeking a special general meeting after a loss of confidence in the national body's management and board.

The Press understands 10 provincial associations concerned at softball's steady decline have supported the push for a special general meeting date to be set before Christmas.

The request - backed by New Zealand's four powerhouse provinces, Auckland, Wellington, Hutt Valley and Canterbury - was lodged with Softball New Zealand (SNZ) last weekend.

The movers behind the special general meeting demand, who refused to be named yesterday, believe softball is now in "a precarious position".

They claim the "once-thriving" sport is "losing its edge on and off the diamond" and is now "not dissimilar" to Swimming New Zealand, which was recently subject to a scathing review by former New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Chris Moller.

They are calling for a "high-energy change manager" to turn the organisation around, and say SNZ cannot wait until after the 2013 men's world championships in Auckland or it "may simply be too late".

SNZ general manager Dane Dougan declined to comment yesterday until he had discussed the issue with board chairman Rex Capil, who is to return today from the junior men's world championships in Argentina.

The backers already have more than the 50 per cent majority of association support required to call a special meeting.

SNZ president Hilton Earley, whose role is to support the sport's stakeholders, said he "definitely" supported staging a special general meeting to plot a path forward.

Earley, who has been steeped in softball for 51 years, said the sport had "to progress".

"Baseball is getting all the limelight at the moment. It's time for us to change our direction . . . I see it as an opportune time to do it."

The demand for a special general meeting was outlined in a document entitled Rebuilding Our Foundations.

Widespread disquiet at SNZ's performance has been simmering for some time but has reached a head since the August annual meeting where SNZ confirmed it had lost $300,000 in funding from the New Zealand Community Trust.

The SNZ board launched a review which saw all staff positions excluding the general manager and finance manager's roles disestablished.

Ten positions were reduced to five, with the new jobs going to existing SNZ staffers.

But the signatories to the special general meeting request were not impressed with the review, saying "several regions have expressed little confidence in SNZ's restructure adding any value to the sport or its prospects".

They want the special meeting to attend four key areas of concern: "a lack of clear vision, a lack of strong and objective leadership at the top, a lack of dynamic delivery capability at both SNZ and regional level and a lack of any innovative recruitment/growth strategies".

The associations want SNZ to set up a "working group of quality people" to create a new vision for softball with a 2013-18 strategy sub-committee charged with developing a new five-year strategic plan.

They demand a new "wow factor" with better delivery in areas like marketing, media strategy, complementary modelling of successful programmes in other softball nations and from other codes, complementary partnerships with other sports and better relationships with regional sports trusts and charitable funding organisations.

Concern is mounting that unless changes are made Sport New Zealand might no longer fund softball's high performance programme, currently geared around the Black Sox, and community programme funding might also be reduced.

The Rebuilding Our Foundations document says its adherents are "pro-softball" but the focus had to be on "softball in New Zealand not Softball New Zealand". They say softball had a "startlingly good record" on the world stage but the sport had been in decline since the 1990s and was "now at a crossroads". SNZ was "irrelevant" to most players.

"Sadly, the growth and health of our sport has waned and is now in a precarious position . . . 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 this country."