It’s just been announced how all the teams (minus host Japan) will have to go about their qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I’m excited to take a deeper dive into the world of international softball with you today. First, the qualifying announcement made from the WBSC outlines how it all works, which is great. We’re going to look at the rankings today, and see where things are heading in regards to each qualifying region. It’s pretty simple, one team from each of Africa/Europe, Asia/Oceania, the winner of 2018’s WBSC World Championship, and two spots from the Americas region, plus the host, Japan.
AFRICA / EUROPE
The winner of the qualifying tournament in this region will be the only team heading to Tokyo. To get into the tournament, you must finish in the top 6 at the 2019 European Championship, and the top 2 of the 2019 African Championship.
Currently out of Europe, the rankings would suggest that the Netherlands (world rank #8), Italy (9), Czech Republic (10), and Great Britain (14) are going to get to battle it out at the qualifier. The last two spots in Europe are going to be a dogfight at the Euros in 2019. Ireland, Austria and Greece occupy spots 20-22 respectively, with France at 24 and Russia at 26. Just getting into an Olympic qualifier could be a huge boost to those last five programs, but getting past any of the top European clubs could prove difficult considering the quality of some of the offences the Dutch and Czechs can muster on their day.
The remaining two spots come from the 2019 African Softball Championship. Uganda is currently the top ranked African nation at 29, followed by Botswana at 33 in the world. South Africa is on the rise at 35th, and Kenya is 36. These two spots are wide open, and if I were a betting man, I’d be betting on the South Africans continuing their rise, and despite some poor finishes of late, Botswana could nab that last spot with a strong tournament.
With only one Olympic spot available, the odds have to be with the strong European clubs to snag the spot. If the Netherlands, or Czechs didn’t get to the Olympics, I’d say they’d be very disappointed, so that would be my final matchup to get to Tokyo.
The Americas region is very interesting, and with a maximum of 16 teams allowed to participate in the qualifier it’s going to be hard to just get into. The top 16 are all currently in the top 50 on the WBSC World Rankings, and with only 2 spots available to go to Toyko, look out here, because a great team or two, or three aren’t going to Japan.
I think we can confidently say that world #1, Team USA is going to the Olympics one way or another, barring some kind of disaster at the qualifier, or the World Championship, like a tornado stopping the entire team from attending, or even the B team at that, so who plays in the final against them?
The favourites should be the Canadians, ranked 3rd in the world. Their roster is very much in flux between a new crop, and reaching backwards to the 2008 games (hello Danielle Lawrie!). The Canadians will be well challenged from a strong Puerto Rican team, and Mexico, ranked 6th and 7th respectively. One of the teams currently ranked inside the top 7 in the world are not going to Tokyo, and that’s too bad. Canada should get through, but don’t be surprised to see an “upset” here and find Puerto Rico or Mexico in Japan with the United States.
ASIA / OCEANIA
This group will create some amazing games, with varying styles between two regions that don’t always play similar softball. There are some tough teams here, and with just one spot available, plus the host country, Japan, there’s lots to play for.
Japan is out of consideration here, qualifying as the host, so the world #2 is in. Australia would be the betting favourite here, ranked 4th in the world, led by captain Stacey Porter, they will be tough to beat. Taipei is just behind Australia, and on the rise after a strong showing at the Asian Championships last year.
Outside of the top two ranked teams, China at #12 and the Philippines at #15 will be strong as well. China hasn’t had the best of form lately, but can still be a force on their day, but the Philippines boasting a strong international roster can and have beaten top teams lately, with a 7-5 win against Australia at the 2017 World Cup.
My conclusions on the qualification are simple. Good teams will not be in Japan, and that’s too bad, but six teams is better than none, like we’ve had since 2008. Several of the top 10 in the world will not be competing in Japan, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have an outstanding tournament.
Here’s who I see competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo:
- Japan – Host
- USA – 2018 WBSC World Championship
- Puerto Rico – Americas
- Canada – Americas
- Netherlands – Africa / Europe
- Australia – Asia / Oceania
I know, not a crazy group of upsets right? The best teams are going to be the best teams most days, which puts the Americans right in the mix versus Japan at the end of this most likely. I do think that Puerto Rico has a good shot to get past Canada and Mexico, and the Dutch can hold off a strong group of European competition. The Aussies and Taipei are the cream of the crop in the Asia / Oceania group, but a tough Philippines team could cause them problems.
We’ve got some time to debate this still, and lots can still happen, but it’s just great news that Softball is back in the Olympics. I’m looking forward to seeing all the top players playing in qualifiers and representing their countries. Who are your qualifiers?