The biggest international women’s softball event in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games is heading to Sydney, with some of the world’s best national teams competing for the Asia Pacific Cup.
Aussie Spirit, fourth in the world rankings, are aiming to win the inaugural event at Blacktown International Sportspark from February 1-4.
But they will face world-class opposition. Competing countries include world No. 1 Japan, fifth-ranked New Zealand, emerging powerhouse China and eighth-ranked Chinese Taipei.
While Italy is a long way from the Asia Pacific region, the Italians were keen to send a team and will be a welcome addition to the list of competing nations.
The other team in the competition will be the All-Stars, made up of Australian players who will be pushing for selection in the Aussie Spirit team in future events.
In the 26-game tournament, each team will play six round-robin games, with the top four advancing to the playoffs.
The Asia Pacific Cup will continue a recent boom in women’s softball throughout the region. Japan has had a professional league for several years, Chinese Taipei has recently launched one, and China entered a team in the National Pro Fastpitch League in the USA this year.
The tournament takes on extra significance because it will be the Aussie Spirit’s launchpad for the 2018 WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship, which will be held in Chiba, Japan, from August 2-12. This event will be the first chance for teams to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Softball Australia CEO Chet Gray says the Asia Pacific Cup will have multiple benefits for softball in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.
“This event will showcase the outstanding talent that we have in this part of the world,” Gray says.
“Some of the world’s best players live in the Asia Pacific region, and tournaments such as this will further develop softball and raise the profile of softball in the region.
“It’s an exciting prospect to be having six of the top 12 ranked teams in women’s softball playing here in Australia.
“We plan on hosting the Asia Pacific Cup as an annual event, providing us with a solid domestic platform for growth in the lead-up to qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games”.
Gray believes the inclusion of an All-Stars team will be of great benefit to the Spirit ahead of the World Championship and Olympic qualifying event next August. “There will be players in the All-Star team who are pushing for selection in the Aussie Spirit team.
“We have some talented young girls who are coming through really quickly, and playing in the All-Star team could fast-track their progress.”
The Asia Pacific Cup replaces the highly successful Down Under Series, which featured teams from Japan and New Zealand, on the Australian softball calendar. “We already had our Down Under Series, so we took that concept and expanded it to include other world-class teams,” Gray says.
“We’re trying to build a profile for women’s softball in the Asia Pacific region.”
The Asia Pacific Cup will also serve as the launchpad for the Aussie Spirit’s Olympic campaign. “It sets the first stage for our run to Tokyo 2020,” Gray says.
“Once we finish with this event in February we’ll have to do whatever we can to make sure we can give our team the best possible chance of Olympic qualification in August.”
The Aussie Spirit team for the Asia Pacific Cup will be selected after the 2018 National Championships in Perth from January 6-12.