On July 7th, the president of the Confederation of European Baseball (CEB), Didier Seminet, who is also the president of the French Federation of Baseball and softball (FFBS), signed an understanding with the Mayor of Paris and the President of Val d’Europe to build a national center of baseball and softball. The national center project is aligned with the city’s goals to host the 2024 Olympic Games and constitutes one of the bases of the federal project Ambition 2024.
Called the Val d’europe National Center, the facility will be designed to host the French national teams’ training needs as well as international tournament play, including the Olympic Games. It will be built with space for retail, administration, scouting, training and club hosting. The FFBS headquarters will also be set up on-site.
Like many of the best-funded baseball and softball facilities across Europe, the Val d’Europe center will be built in close proximity to, and as a part of, a larger sporting facility. In this case, the Val d’Arena would become part of the project as well. The site for the build is close not only to a main train station but shopping centers owned by Val d’Europe as well as attractions such as Disneyland Paris. Val d’Europe is a public institution for inter-municipal cooperation that includes five municipalities. Their member cities welcome more than 40M tourists each year.
The Agreement was signed just ahead of the final presentations to the Olympic Steering Committee for the Games this week. The Steering Committee heard bids from the remaining host cities - Paris, France and Los Angeles California, USA – when they handed in final proposals to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for review and evaluation. The award decision is expected to be announced on September 13th.
In a surprising move overnight however, the IOC agreed, in principle, to award both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games during this same September meeting. Furthermore they agreed, with the acceptance of the mayors of both cities, to award one city the Games in 2024 and the other the Games in 2028. The mayor of each city appeared together before the Committee showing their joint desire to come to an agreement following a day filled with individual pleas for their own city to be awarded the 2024 bid.
The current IOC president, Thomas Bach called the decision, “a golden opportunity” for all concerned, according to the IOC release. The new President of France, Emmanuel Macron, gave his support to a dual award opportunity prior to this week’s meetings, “We are willing to work with them on this win-win-win approach,” he said.
Given that Los Angeles already has the facilities in place to not only include baseball and softball, but host several other major sporting competitions within a very close radius and that Paris will, no doubt, need time build the baseball and softball facilities, as well as the arena they’ve now signed on to provide, we can expect the awarding to go to Los Angeles first and Paris to follow.
It has been 100 years since Paris last hosted a Games. Mayor Hidalgo said, “I am fully committed with the Paris team to putting all my energy, our creativity and my resolve into reaching an agreement for Paris to experience once again this Olympic adventure.”
This decision is not only good for the Games and each city individually, it is also an amazing opportunity for our athletes. In recent years Games facilities have been constructed based on need with little financial support available from the hosting cities. Both Los Angeles and Paris have not only the infrastructures already in place to support a Games experience – public transportation, public safety and regular tourism – like Japan, who got our games back into the Olympics, they each have a desire to include the sports of baseball and softball.
This is a very, very good sign for our sports in Europe. If federations across the continent have guaranteed Olympic-level funding from their governments through the 2028 Olympics that will allow them to set in motion a 10-year plan to improve facilities, grow youth programs and put plans in place to self-generate revenue. It also allows for growth in the level of play of native players.
Europe’s games currently rely on players becoming interested in the sports later in life and the dedication of volunteers. With the growth of Academy programs in recent years across Europe, as well as the support from local schools and, in some cases embassies and military bases, the sports have begun to be introduced to children at younger ages. Thanks to the support and interest of Major League Baseball (MLB) we are seeing record numbers of European-developed players in the MiLB and MLB system each year. Those who never make the show still bring back their dedication to the sports, as well as the skills they've developed abroad, to their European teams. With new facilities, government support and the support of the international baseball and softball communities, the time to develop baseball and softball across Europe has not been better since the post-war era.
On the international stage at the moment very few European countries are ready to qualify for the Games. In the short term this opens up doors for import players with heritage and skill to have a new avenue to becoming an Olympiad. It also allows for European teams to round out their homegrown talent base with players that will allow them to become competitive. For the 2020 Games, this is good for the European sports.
It allows for competitive playing, which is good for the sports and their future in the Olympic Games. On the field, it helps teams qualify while improving the level of the game for the local players because of their exposure to the international players with, in some cases, years more experience.
It also opens up job opportunities in coaching heading into 2028 for dozens of imports with the skills, visas and desire to remain in Europe. Some European countries could use these individuals who have the knowledge of, and heart for, our sports to improve the overall understanding of the sports on the local level. This is traditionally how our sports have always grown.
Because of the gap in Olympic years in the early 2000s, there are simply not enough local-based people with the appropriate skillset to pass on what is needed to make Europe competitive before the end of the 2020s and this must happen for the Games to continue to support the sports heading into the 2030s.
To advance the growth of the sports across Europe with academy programs, school-based teams, new facilities and government assistance, support from the international baseball and softball communities will be necessary.
When we follow the lead of the two current bidding cities for hosting the Games and work with one another toward the larger goal, then the level of play, and therefore the level of interest in our sports locally, will not only increase but will become self-generating, in terms of revenue, to keep the sports alive and thriving for generations to come.