The Aussie Spirit’s pathway to qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has become clearer after an announcement by the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
At its meeting in Paris, the WBSC decided that the teams to qualify for Tokyo 2020 would have two opportunities.
The first spot will go to the winner of this year’s XVI WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship 2018 in Chiba, Japan, from August 2-12.
If Japan, which has automatic qualification as the Olympic host, wins that tournament, the runners-up will qualify for Tokyo 2020 without having to participate in regional qualifying tournaments.
The Aussie Spirit, fresh from a season in the National Pro Fastpitch league in the US, will be among the teams well placed to finish in the top two in Chiba and thus qualify for the 2020 Olympics. But if not, there are four more places available that can be earned in regional qualifying tournaments.
Two teams from Oceania will join six teams from Asia in one qualifying tournament. Australia and New Zealand are the two highest-ranked Oceania teams, but if more countries ask to be included, then a separate Oceania qualifying tournament will be held.
The top two Oceania teams would then be pitted against six teams from Asia in another qualification tournament. Only one team from this zone will qualify for the Olympics.
The timing and venues for the Oceania and Asian qualifying tournaments have yet to be decided.
For Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow, the announcement of the qualifying rules provides welcome clarity but will not change the team’s approach.
“The confirmation of the Olympic qualifying process doesn’t force us to adjust our goals or planning moving towards the World Championship in August, although it is nice to finally have some clarity,” Barlow said.
“At the end of the day the top six teams in the world will find their way to the 2020 Olympics, and if you’re good enough you will be there and if you’re not then you will be watching.
“The next challenge for our national athletes is the NPF, and that’s where their focus is right now with their preparation.”
The WBSC also announced that an eight-team qualifying tournament will be held for teams in Africa and Europe, with the winning team qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
In the Americas, a 16-team tournament will be held, with the top two teams qualifying.
WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said the various qualification events would deliver some of the most exciting and meaningful international softball games ever seen.
“As the biggest sport in Japan, the historic return of Olympic Baseball and Softball is expected to make a major buzz and be a magical experience for the athletes and spectators alike, so we can expect that millions around the world will have their sights set on Tokyo 2020 and do whatever they can to be a part of it,” Fraccari said.