Next month’s Olympic qualifier softball tournament in Surrey got a boost from the provincial government Wednesday afternoon.
At a media event held at South Surrey’s Softball City, it was announced that the provincial ministry of tourism, arts and culture is providing the 2019 Americas Olympic Qualifier tournament – in which a dozen international women’s fastpitch teams will vie for two spots in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo – with $150,000 through the ‘Tourism Events’ and ‘Major Events’ programs.
The tournament is set to run from Aug. 25 until Sept. 1, and will include the Canadian national team, which on Sunday won its second-straight Canada Cup tournament on the same field at which the August qualifier will be held.
Surrey-Guildford MLA Garry Begg described the funding as “some great news about high-performance sport.”
“It’s an enormous honour to have Team Canada softball players take to the diamond right here in Surrey in their quest for Olympic competition,” Begg said during the news conference.
“Events like this reinforce B.C.’s reputation as a first-tier sports host. They also celebrate the achievement of women athletes, encouraging the next generation of young women to get involved and to stay in sport.”
Event organizers expect the week-long tournament to have an economic impact of $10 million for B.C., a news release notes.
Greg Timm, chair of the Americas qualifier organizing committee, told Peace Arch News Wednesday that the cost of hosting the qualifier will be “just short of $1 million,” and that – with 39 days to go – around half of that has been raised so far.
He described the provincial injection as “one of the most important components.”
In addition to Canada, other countries set to take part in the qualifier are Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Cuba, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, British Virgin Islands and Dominican Republic. Despite being in the ‘Americas’ region, the United States will not compete, as they have already qualified for the Olympic Games as a result of winning last summer’s world championship. Japan, as the host nation, have also already qualified for the six-team 2020 tournament.
“The dedication shown by the provincial government, for youth and amateur sport is inspiring,” Timm said in a news release issued following Wednesday’s event.
“The committee, our volunteers and the players are incredibly grateful that the government has stepped up to the plate and provided an opportunity for Canada’s national team to host the Olympic qualifier on home soil.”
Canada is currently ranked No. 3 in women’s softball world rankings, behind only the U.S. and Japan.
Timm’s organizing committee is a not-for-profit group, and last month was still in need of local sponsors to help fund the event, which was awarded to the City of Surrey in late January.
Timm told PAN earlier this week that a number of businesses had since expressed interest in sponsorship opportunities.
Team Canada pitcher Danielle Lawrie – a former White Rock Renegades star – was also on hand at this week’s funding announcement, and expressed excitement at the prospect of playing next month’s tournament in front of hometown fans.
“There is no greater honour than playing for your country, and the qualifier is going to be pivotal in fulfilling that dream,” said Lawrie, who is one of just three national team holdovers from the team that competed at the 2008 Olympics, which was the last time the sport was part of the Games.
Lawrie said she came out of retirement to “try to make another Olympic run.”
“I think for me, it was coming up short, kinda like a salty taste left in my mouth of how that (2008) Olympic journey went and how we were so close to winning a medal, and it just slipped through our fingertips,” she told media.
“This is a team that I think we have a very, very strong chance of qualifying when we get to August.”
– with files from Tracy Holmes