BREAKING: Italy Awarded 2021 U23 Euros, Apparent Qualification

The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) has been awarded hosting rights for the 2021 Under-23 (U23) European Championship. Italy will now host the Senior, U23, and U18 tournaments, the first time ever that one country will host Europe’s top three men’s baseball events. In fact, it is only the second time since records are available in 2007 that one country hosted three European national team events at any level. The announcement also served as a postponement to the tourney’s original dates.

Hosting a Treble
The U23s will now be the penultimate European baseball tournament of the summer. Originally due to start Aug. 3 or 4, the event will run from Aug. 24 to 28 at two sites in greater Verona. The northern Italian city is home to a Roman amphitheatre generally regarded as the best preserved in Europe. Two weeks later (beginning Sep. 11 or 12), the action will move slightly west to the Piedmont region for the senior men’s tournament. Meanwhile, the U18 title bout will run from July 5-11.

The feat of hosting three continental championships in one year is a very rare one. No country on any other continent can claim that feat for at least a decade and, quite possibly, ever. In Europe, it was common between 2007-2016 for a country to host two national team events (every year except 2009)—with the Czechs the most frequent—but even that feat has become uncommon of late. A treble of tournaments, however, is historic.

In 2012, the Czech Republic hosted three continental competitions. That year, the Central European nation welcomed teams to the U12, U15, and U21 (the predecessor to the U23) Championships over three consecutive weeks. It is worth noting that the Czech Republic is also the only other country in Europe to host the senior and U23/U21 championships in the same year (2014).

Italy’s Mysterious Qualification
All of this discussion of historicity, however, obscures the fact that Italy will somehow host a tournament—for which one has had to qualify since 2018—without ever fielding a team at the U23 level. Although it competed in the initial U21 European Championship in 2006, it has not sent a team since. The press release today [link] by FIBS announced a “newly-created U23 baseball division”, led by manager Alberto d’Auria, which will “have the daunting task of putting together a squad that will win the inaugural U23 European Baseball Championship”.

Yet Italy has not qualified for the tournament it will host. The CEB ‘Competition Rules’ document [link], last updated in 2019, states in Article 23B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23: Participants: ‘The participants are the 6 first classified of the previous championship and the 2 first classified of the last Qualifier.’

Given that Italy did not compete in the previous championship or qualifiers, a solution to its inclusion in the championship cannot be found in Article 23. The article concludes with Section D, Promotion and Relegation, which declares, ‘The teams that finished 7th and 8th place are relegated to the next Qualifier. The winner and the runner-up of the Qualifier in the following year are promoted to the next Championship.’

Article 26 (QUALIFIER FOR THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23, JUNIORS U18, CADETS U15 AND JUVENILES U12) further clarifies the preceding statement. In Section B (Promotion and Relegation), Clause 1 (Qualifier for the European Championships U23, Juniors U18, Cadets U15), the CEB affirms that ‘The winner and the runner-up of the qualifier competition is promoted to the next championship. In case the qualifier is played in two different countries, the winner of each group is promoted to the championship.’

The Search for a Qualifying Loophole
The possible exemption to Article 23B and D and Article 26B is contained in 26A: ‘For these qualifying competitions, the CEB Technical Commission will decide yearly the format of the competition based upon the number of subscriptions.’ Given that two U23 Qualifiers were meant to be held in 2020, it is possible that this has been applied as a ‘Pandemic Exception’ and the 2021 U23s will feature a number of other unqualified teams.

Unlike the senior men’s and women’s tournaments and the U12 Championship, this also indicates that there is no set formula for the number of subscribed U23, U18, or U15 teams to automatically trigger the creation of either a qualifying round or whether that qualifier should be split into two pools. In fact, given a directive in Article 26A “In case the qualifying competitions for the Championship Juniors and/or Cadets are played in two different countries,” the U23 Championship is the only CEB tournament with no guidance on how to form a multi-pool qualifier. Moreover, unlike the aforementioned three tournaments, there is no suggestion of a third-tier qualifying tournament and, instead, the Technical Commission has more leeway to determine format.

A tweet yesterday from FIBS provides little more information, with the ‘Consiglio Federale’ (Federal Council) in question that of Italy’s federation, not the CEB (as tweets from the hour previous make clear). The wording of the tweet suggests that FIBS’ Federal Council chose the two Veronese sites, rather than the confederation’s executive committee. 

It is worth noting that in Article 20B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: Participants), the CEB ruling for senior men’s tournaments is that the 10 participant teams are the top nine from its most recent edition, the winners of the two qualifying pools, and “the organizer country”. The clause also provides instructions for the allotment of the tenth place team should one of the top nine serve as hosts. The senior men’s championship is the only tournament for which an “organizer country” is mentioned.

Deciphering CEB’s Decision
CEB Europe Baseball LogoSeveral assumptions have been made in this piece. First, that Italy will field a team in the tournament. Second, that CEB members have not voted to allow an exception given the unusual circumstances of the last year. Third, that a document not available on www.baseballeurope.com stipulates an automatic birth for any host nation, regardless of qualification. The most likely of these theoretical or actual missing documents is the ‘Host Agreement’, first drafted for the 2012 Congress [link] and referenced in the ‘Competition Rules’. The ‘Site Request for CEB Competitions 2019’, and ‘Statutes’ (last updated 2017) are silent on the matter of qualification.

The date of the ‘Competition Rules’ document (“Valid for 2019”) and its stipulation of a 12-team Euros, however, provide clues that the CEB’s rules for competition may have been updated, given the Aug. 17 announcement by the confederation that the men’s European Championship would expand to 16 teams. What seems most likely is that—despite the postponement of the 2021 WBSC (and CEB) Congress to November 2021—European federations have revised the ‘Competition Rules’ to allow for a guaranteed spot for an ‘organizer country’ at the U23 category, and possibly others.

At least two federations to whom we spoke were unaware of a new provision for host nations to gain an automatic berth in tournaments other than seniors. Should this change not have taken place, then the two relegated countries from the most recent championship in 2019 (Croatia and Ukraine) and the remaining teams from the 2018 qualifier (Austria, Belarus, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland) may have cause for a grievance. Other teams already in the championship might also take issue as well, given as it as a 2022 U23 World Cup qualifier. 

On the other hand, the U23/U21 tournament has always been the unique one since its creation in 2006, with teams regularly making sporadic appearances. For example, Spain hosted the tournament in 2008 and then did not reappear until 2017. Israel made its only appearance as hosts in a four-team 2016 championship, and Hungary and Malta materialised in the inaugural event, never to be seen since (as with Georgia since 2017). Given the unusual path the tournament has taken, with tournaments as large as 16 teams and as small as four, perhaps a few idiosyncracies should be expected.

Action shots copyright Extra Innings UK.

 

The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) has been awarded hosting rights for the 2021 Under-23 (U23) European Championship. Italy will now host the Senior, U23, and U18 tournaments, the first time ever that one country will host Europe’s top three men’s baseball events. In fact, it is only the second time since records are available in 2007 that one country hosted three European national team events at any level. The announcement also served as a postponement to the tourney’s original dates.

Hosting a Treble
The U23s will now be the penultimate European baseball tournament of the summer. Originally due to start Aug. 3 or 4, the event will run from Aug. 24 to 28 at two sites in greater Verona. The northern Italian city is home to a Roman amphitheatre generally regarded as the best preserved in Europe. Two weeks later (beginning Sep. 11 or 12), the action will move slightly west to the Piedmont region for the senior men’s tournament. Meanwhile, the U18 title bout will run from July 5-11.

The feat of hosting three continental championships in one year is a very rare one. No country on any other continent can claim that feat for at least a decade and, quite possibly, ever. In Europe, it was common between 2007-2016 for a country to host two national team events (every year except 2009)—with the Czechs the most frequent—but even that feat has become uncommon of late. A treble of tournaments, however, is historic.

In 2012, the Czech Republic hosted three continental competitions. That year, the Central European nation welcomed teams to the U12, U15, and U21 (the predecessor to the U23) Championships over three consecutive weeks. It is worth noting that the Czech Republic is also the only other country in Europe to host the senior and U23/U21 championships in the same year (2014).

Italy’s Mysterious Qualification
All of this discussion of historicity, however, obscures the fact that Italy will somehow host a tournament—for which one has had to qualify since 2018—without ever fielding a team at the U23 level. Although it competed in the initial U21 European Championship in 2006, it has not sent a team since. The press release today [link] by FIBS announced a “newly-created U23 baseball division”, led by manager Alberto d’Auria, which will “have the daunting task of putting together a squad that will win the inaugural U23 European Baseball Championship”.

Yet Italy has not qualified for the tournament it will host. The CEB ‘Competition Rules’ document [link], last updated in 2019, states in Article 23B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23: Participants: ‘The participants are the 6 first classified of the previous championship and the 2 first classified of the last Qualifier.’

Given that Italy did not compete in the previous championship or qualifiers, a solution to its inclusion in the championship cannot be found in Article 23. The article concludes with Section D, Promotion and Relegation, which declares, ‘The teams that finished 7th and 8th place are relegated to the next Qualifier. The winner and the runner-up of the Qualifier in the following year are promoted to the next Championship.’

Article 26 (QUALIFIER FOR THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23, JUNIORS U18, CADETS U15 AND JUVENILES U12) further clarifies the preceding statement. In Section B (Promotion and Relegation), Clause 1 (Qualifier for the European Championships U23, Juniors U18, Cadets U15), the CEB affirms that ‘The winner and the runner-up of the qualifier competition is promoted to the next championship. In case the qualifier is played in two different countries, the winner of each group is promoted to the championship.’

The Search for a Qualifying Loophole
The possible exemption to Article 23B and D and Article 26B is contained in 26A: ‘For these qualifying competitions, the CEB Technical Commission will decide yearly the format of the competition based upon the number of subscriptions.’ Given that two U23 Qualifiers were meant to be held in 2020, it is possible that this has been applied as a ‘Pandemic Exception’ and the 2021 U23s will feature a number of other unqualified teams.

Unlike the senior men’s and women’s tournaments and the U12 Championship, this also indicates that there is no set formula for the number of subscribed U23, U18, or U15 teams to automatically trigger the creation of either a qualifying round or whether that qualifier should be split into two pools. In fact, given a directive in Article 26A “In case the qualifying competitions for the Championship Juniors and/or Cadets are played in two different countries,” the U23 Championship is the only CEB tournament with no guidance on how to form a multi-pool qualifier. Moreover, unlike the aforementioned three tournaments, there is no suggestion of a third-tier qualifying tournament and, instead, the Technical Commission has more leeway to determine format.

A tweet yesterday from FIBS provides little more information, with the ‘Consiglio Federale’ (Federal Council) in question that of Italy’s federation, not the CEB (as tweets from the hour previous make clear). The wording of the tweet suggests that FIBS’ Federal Council chose the two Veronese sites, rather than the confederation’s executive committee. 

It is worth noting that in Article 20B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: Participants), the CEB ruling for senior men’s tournaments is that the 10 participant teams are the top nine from its most recent edition, the winners of the two qualifying pools, and “the organizer country”. The clause also provides instructions for the allotment of the tenth place team should one of the top nine serve as hosts. The senior men’s championship is the only tournament for which an “organizer country” is mentioned.

Deciphering CEB’s Decision
CEB Europe Baseball LogoSeveral assumptions have been made in this piece. First, that Italy will field a team in the tournament. Second, that CEB members have not voted to allow an exception given the unusual circumstances of the last year. Third, that a document not available on www.baseballeurope.com stipulates an automatic birth for any host nation, regardless of qualification. The most likely of these theoretical or actual missing documents is the ‘Host Agreement’, first drafted for the 2012 Congress [link] and referenced in the ‘Competition Rules’. The ‘Site Request for CEB Competitions 2019’, and ‘Statutes’ (last updated 2017) are silent on the matter of qualification.

The date of the ‘Competition Rules’ document (“Valid for 2019”) and its stipulation of a 12-team Euros, however, provide clues that the CEB’s rules for competition may have been updated, given the Aug. 17 announcement by the confederation that the men’s European Championship would expand to 16 teams. What seems most likely is that—despite the postponement of the 2021 WBSC (and CEB) Congress to November 2021—European federations have revised the ‘Competition Rules’ to allow for a guaranteed spot for an ‘organizer country’ at the U23 category, and possibly others.

At least two federations to whom we spoke were unaware of a new provision for host nations to gain an automatic berth in tournaments other than seniors, while a third was uncertain. Of these teams, one has qualified for the A-Pool and two have not sent teams. Should this change not have taken place, then the two relegated countries from the most recent championship in 2019 (Croatia and Ukraine) and the remaining teams from the 2018 qualifier (Austria, Belarus, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland) may have cause for a grievance. Other teams already in the championship might also take issue as well, given as it as a 2022 U23 World Cup qualifier. 

On the other hand, the U23/U21 tournament has always been the unique one since its creation in 2006, with teams regularly making sporadic appearances. For example, Spain hosted the tournament in 2008 and then did not reappear until 2017. Israel made its only appearance as hosts in a four-team 2016 championship, and Hungary and Malta materialised in the inaugural event, never to be seen since (as with Georgia since 2017). Given the unusual path the tournament has taken, with tournaments as large as 16 teams and as small as four, perhaps a few idiosyncracies should be expected.

The CEB website and social media accounts have yet to be updated with the announcement (and, indeed, the Twitter has been silent since September—and May, excluding retweets) for a while. In the meantime, we will keep you updated as more details emerge. 

Action shots copyright Extra Innings UK. Hat tip to Cam McHarg for his assistance in gathering information. 

 

About Gabriel Fidler

Extra Innings UK covers baseball around the world, focussing on the sport at the national team level, with features on prominent players, scouting reports, and occasional breaking news. We are fully credentialled by MLB and have covered the World Baseball Classic, continental championships, and the U.S. minor leagues.
This entry was posted in CEB, Europe, Italy, U23 European Championship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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