SURREY â€” Four hundred days and counting.
The 2016 WBSC XV Women’s World Softball Championship (Surrey2016.com) may be over a year away, but organizers are already working around the clock to prepare for the international competition.
It took 18 months to secure Surrey’s bid for the illustrious tournament, and there are only about 13 months left to get everything ready for the event, set to take over Softball City in South Surrey from July 15 to 24, 2016.
More than 30 countries are expected to show for the worldrenowned biennial softball tournament, including teams from the continents of Africa, South America, Europe and Asia.
"I don’t believe that Surrey has ever held a world championship in any sport," said event chairman Greg Timm. "We think that this is the perfect type of event for Surrey at this time. Surrey, being so youthful, and because of our multi-ethnic nature in Surrey, we are calling on people from all communities to come out and support their national flag."
Timm, who is also president of the Canadian Open Fastpitch Society, which has hosted its annual international tourney at Softball City for close to two decades, said the championship is a great sport tourism event, estimated to generate more than $20 million for the city and surrounding areas.
"It’s a good business opportunity for many hotels and restaurants â€” anyone attached to the sports tourism business," he said, adding that organizers are currently rallying support from local boards of trade, business improvement associations and chambers of commerce.
Laurie Cavan, general manager of the city’s parks, recreation and culture department, said hosting the Canadian Open Fastpitch International for the last 20 years made the city a viable candidate for the WBSC championship.
"All the good work and good foundation by individuals in the community (enabled) us to win the bid," she said. "It’s a great way to develop sport in our community and to be raising the profile of young females in sport."
Mark Smith, head coach of the women’s national team, said the 2016 championships will be the third time in four years that Canada has hosted a significant international event for women’s softball, referencing the 2012 championships in Whitehorse and this summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto.
"It’s a home game for us in every sense of the word," he said. "Softball City has been home for our national team, in terms of competition venues, as part of the Canadian Open event for the last almost 20 years."
In the event’s history, Canada has medalled twice, taking silver in 1978 and bronze in 2010. But they haven’t been too far off making the top three again, having placed fourth in the last two iterations of the championship.
"We’re right there in terms of being on the podium," said Smith. "Quite truthfully, there’s not a lot to pick between ourselves and the Aussies on any given day.
"We’ve got a nice combination of experience, we’ve got some young players that have surprised us, and our pitching is getting better. If our pitching continues to improve this year, and if our offence and defence continue to perform as they have, we give ourselves a legitimate chance to be on the podium."
Selection camps will be held to find the country’s top female softball players.
Timm noted the stakes will be high for the championship as delegates from the International Olympic Committee will be on hand at Softball City. A week after the event, the IOC is expected to announce whether or not softball and baseball will return at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"The 2016 will be an extremely important tournament," he said. "We expect the eyes of the world to be upon us in Surrey."
Meanwhile, this year’s Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship will be held from July 3 to 13 at Softball City and Cloverdale Athletic Park. Event details are posted at Canadianopenfastpitch.com.