Major international news broke this evening as MLB and USA Baseball published press releases within 35 minutes of each other postponing the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers and the Americas Olympic Baseball Qualifier. The three tournaments were scheduled to take place at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona over the next three weeks. Both press releases (appended below) note that new dates will be revealed for the events at a later date.
How the WBC Qualifiers Are Affected
As the press release notes below, qualifiers are “postponed indefinitely”. Play was scheduled to begin tomorrow in Pool 1 and more than half of the six teams were already in Arizona. It is really disappointing for the players (many of whom may not get another chance pending availability, health, and other factors), coaches, and fans, but it is absolutely the right move.
Given that all major U.S. sports and many worldwide leagues and events have cancelled play, it is unlikely we see international sporting competition before May. As such, it seems likely that the WBCQs will now take place in autumn. Great Britain’s Head Coach Liam Carroll immediately released a statement to put the postponement in perspective.
How Olympic Baseball Is Affected
Four teams are currently qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo, which are still currently scheduled to take place, though other sporting events in Japan, like the Spring Koshien Tournament, have been cancelled or are playing behind closed doors. The Olympic baseball competition is scheduled for 29 July-8 Aug. and the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament is set for 17-21 June.
These dates mean that there is still time to complete the Americas qualification in time to send two of those teams to Taiwan in advance of the “last chance” tourney. It could potentially allow that event to be pushed back by as much as a month given how the pandemic develops.
There is, however, one other solution, which is that the Olympic tournament proceeds with only four nations, given that every continent except Oceania has received an opportunity to qualify.
Other International Baseball Events Could Be Affected
With news tonight that the College World Series has been cancelled and yesterday’s cancellation of all European PONY events, we must prepare ourselves for a summer of significantly reduced international baseball. Next month’s Mexico Series and Puerto Rico Series seem highly likely to be changed to U.S. cities and the next domino to fall could be the London Series. Given our experience, announcements on the first two seem likely to occur by the end of March, while MLB will hope that the pandemic has been contained before announcing the cancellation of the London Series, with a decision likely coming at the end of April.
Other tournaments seem likely to be cancelled or postponed: Finkstonball, Prague Baseball Week, Haarlem Baseball Week, and the Grand Forks Invitational. The full international baseball schedule for 2020 can be viewed here [link].
We will be on the forefront as the situation develops and will be live from the rescheduled World Baseball Classic qualifiers, assuming they happen. There is a realistic possibility that they may be cancelled depending on the level of havoc over the next few months and its impact on MLB and baseball.
MLB’s Press Release, 19:10 GMT
MLB to Delay Opening Day ‘By at Least Two Weeks,’ Spring Training Games Canceled Due to Coronavirus
Following a call with the 30 clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, clubs and our millions of loyal fans.
MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4 p.m. ET today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Ariz., have been postponed indefinitely.
MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.
End of press release.
USA Baseball’s Press Release, 19:45 GMT
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), in collaboration with event-host USA Baseball, today announced the postponing of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020 due to player, personnel and spectator health and safety measures amid concerns surrounding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
Dates for the rescheduled Baseball Americas Qualifier in Arizona will be announced at a later time.
The Americas qualifier was set to take place in Surprise and Tempe, Arizona, from March 22-26. After consulting with governmental and medical authorities, as well as following the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), the WBSC and the Local Organizing Committee (USA Baseball) jointly decided to postpone the event.
“The health and safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and fans remain the top priority of USA Baseball, and we applaud the international federation’s shared commitment to the overall well-being of athletes globally,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO. “We will continue to collaborate with the World Baseball Softball Confederation in order to deliver a world-class international baseball event in the future. Additionally, our staff will continue working diligently with our coaches, scouts and Major League Baseball in preparation for this tournament, as we remain dedicated to our goal of representing the United States at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”
The eight national teams set to compete in the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier include host-country USA, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
The winner from the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier will earn a berth into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while the second- and third-place finishers will have a second chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020 at the Final Qualifier in Taichung and Douliu, Taiwan, which has been rescheduled from April 1-5 to June 17-21.
The winner of the Final Qualifier will earn the sixth and final berth into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball tournament.
Four nations have already qualified for baseball at the 2020 Olympics: host Japan, Israel, Korea and Mexico.
Photos copyright Extra Innings UK.