Black Sox softball coach says Covid has 'widened the gap' between NZ's pro and amateur sports

Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson - an international softballer since 1984 - says the gap between New Zealand's professional sports and amateur codes has never been wider due to challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sorenson is hopeful that the Black Sox will play a series against Australia in Queensland next May, which would be their first games in almost three years - since the June 2019 world championships in the Czech Republic.
Chief executive Tony Giles said the Softball New Zealand and Australia were “still planning’’ for the Brisbane tournament, but "current restrictions on this side of the Tasman'', in particular, the requirement for seven-day self-isolation on return from Australia made the situation "complex for amateur sports such as ourselves".

"Our athletes would need to have a week's leave to play in the event, and another week to self-isolate. Then, we have a pinnacle event coming up in November where they are going to need another three weeks to prepare for the World Cup and participate in it.''

Sorenson said sporting codes reliant on amateur players were struggling to get international opportunities whereas professional teams had the ability and financial backing to relocate.
"It's never been more evident to me in my career at international level the difference between the haves and have-nots, the pro sports and the amateur sports, has never been greater. The pandemic has driven that gap wider because of circumstance,'' Sorenson said.
"It's not just softball - the majority of sports are in a similar boat. The pro sports are able to adapt as they have, the Warriors, Breakers, Phoenix etc can relocate and carry on, but a grassroots amateur sport can't afford to do that. With our guys having fulltime jobs and being amateurs, we can't afford to have them taking time off to have a tour and then have to MIQ when we get back.''
Giles said other sporting CEOs were reporting similar challenges, but "Sport New Zealand have been great with their communication and guidance around the complexities of this situation''.
He said funding was also a critical issue for the amateur sector sports, who would be eagerly awaiting High Performance Sport New Zealand's funding round announcement on Wednesday.

The World Baseball Softball Council has twice been forced to reschedule the men's softball World Cup - initially set for Auckland in February 2021 - pushing it back to next November-December.
Sorenson had been hopeful of a trans-Tasman tournament in Australia in April 2022, "but that's now been pushed back a month because of the pandemic''. Giles said the late start to the season in both countries had played a big part.

The Black Sox may now be looking at an 11-month season next year, beginning in January and culminating with the World Cup in early December, Sorenson said.
"Where we normally shut down over the winter months, we'd just keep going. Guys could be going and playing offshore for a short period of time. More of our guys are looking at that."

Compounding Sorenson's challenges is the fact 20 of his 31-man Black Sox training squad have just emerged from lockdown in Auckland and only played their first games of the season last week - two months after their Wellington and Canterbury regional counterparts.
The Aucklanders had effectively "missed out their pre-season'' and were "going pretty much from nothing to multiple games within a short period of time'', he said. "The concern there is the risk of injury. We don't want them doing too much too soon and getting hurt, that would be the equivalent of putting them back into lockdown.''

The 107-day Auckland lockdown forced the Black Sox to cancel their fitness test updates, which will now not take place until the New Year

The new traffic light system rules have also contributed to the cancellation of two key club tournaments in Auckland and Wellington, where Sorenson and his co-selectors had hoped to evaluate players.
Giles is confident the National Fastpitch Championships representative tournament in February and the national open club championships in March will still proceed, and Sorenson is now looking at regional games to maximise diamond time for squad members.
Both Sorenson and Giles said while the challenges facing amateur sports were considerable, the key was being able to adapt.
"I'd like to think it's been a strength of ours, but we're in a different world now," Sorenson said. "It's changed our ability to do the things we all took for granted. Now, with restrictions in, it's re-set the clock a bit. We are just trying to build it level by level, so we've got a really strong foundation in and are ready to take off.''