The Australian Baseball League has today announced it has decided to cancel the entirety of the 2021/22 ABL season in the wake of the growing challenges presented by the global pandemic.
The ABL, which was forced into delaying its November 18 start date to mid-December last month, has now provided an update to its plans and has made the decision to call off this season’s edition of the competition.
The choice to abandon the season entirely was made with the league’s long-term success and sustainability in mind, admitting COVID-19 was still going to be too much of a problem to navigate in the coming months.
Glenn Williams, Baseball Australia chief executive announced it would be difficult to hold and structure an ABL season in the current climate and sympathised with the whole baseball community.
“There is still too much uncertainty around Australia’s ongoing COVID restrictions for us to be able to operate a successful ABL season,” Williams said.
“We know how much the ABL means to our fans, players, coaches, officials and the wider baseball community and we exhausted all options to try and find a way to conduct a sustainable season, but we couldn’t find a way through.
“This is understandably disappointing, but we are confident this is the right decision and in the best long-term interests of the ABL and its teams.”
Instead, the ABL and Baseball Australia reinforce the notion that they remain committed to delivering a 2022/23 season, marketing it as ‘its biggest season yet’.
“Our goal over the coming years is to build a thriving and sustainable ABL to ensure it regains a strong position in the Australian sporting landscape and remains as one of the best baseball leagues in the world. For this to happen we need financially strong teams,” Williams said.
“We thank everyone for their continued support during what have been challenging times for all sports, including baseball, and we are determined to rebound bigger and better in 2022.”
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While organisations would be disappointed with the news, the fallout appears to be mixed in terms of agreement and frustration, based on individual responses to the resolution of the 2021/22 season ceasing before it’s begun.
The Melbourne Aces, the league’s defending champions after winning back-to-back Claxton Shields provided a short insight into the talks behind the scenes with the league and other organisations. Despite the irritation, they remained optimistic about what lies ahead for the league and organisation’s future, citing ‘huge surprises’ ahead of next season.
“It is extremely disappointing that the 2021/22 season will not proceed. The ABL worked tirelessly and produced two schedules that were in our opinion workable,” Aces owner Brett Ralph said.
“Both of these schedules required the participation of the Brisbane Bandits in order that Perth Heat and Adelaide Giants had opponents to play whilst waiting for further easing of border restrictions.
“With Brisbane’s decision to withdraw from the competition following the failure to achieve the rule changes they demanded, it became apparent that a workable schedule was not possible.
“The ABL is to be commended for resisting Brisbane’s attempts to blackmail the league into making rule changes that would have delivered a significant competitive advantage to the Bandits but were not in the best interests of all teams.
“The ABL put integrity ahead of expediency. I would also like to acknowledge the Perth Heat who agreed to significant concessions to help the season to continue and the Adelaide Giant’s, whose new ownership and management team remained thoroughly committed throughout the process.”
The Perth Heat, last year’s runners-up, echoed the Aces annoyance and also pointed towards the combined efforts of most of the organisations to work together towards holding a season that was viable. They too will be attempting to play some form of professional competition, revealing the importance of growing the game and investment of players.
“We are devastated by this outcome on so many levels. While we’ve already heavily invested into so many parts of the season, our hearts are broken for our players, coaches, members and partners,” Heat Chairman Rory Vassallo said.
“Five of the six ABL teams collectively put forward a number of options to play this season but regrettably Baseball Australia have decided to oppose the clear position of five teams.
“We are shocked the season has been cancelled so close to the start date considering we were presented with two new schedules just a few days ago.
“We must play baseball in some format this summer and our ABL rivals agree. How can we inspire the next generation of players without playing competitive games?
“Having no season will hurt the development of our young Australian players while some of our veterans will now face the sad reality of two years without playing an ABL game.”
The Adelaide Giants spoke of their understanding of the situation, and the decision made, however still displayed their disappointment. The organisation says it’ll keep busy and active, building on working towards alternative ways for players to take the field, and for fans to watch.
“We have had plenty of positive discussions with other ABL clubs, international teams and Baseball SA in both the men’s and women’s space that provides us with optimism that we will have some Giants baseball in 2021/22,” said Giants’ Baseball General Manager Nathan Davison.
“We will always work towards what’s best in mind for our players and fans, and have an obligation to give them the best opportunity to better their career via the program provided by the Giants.”
The Sydney Blue Sox supported the inevitable decision and revealed their excitement at the possibility of a great summer, as the focus shifts to a 2022/23 ABL season.
“Whilst we are obviously disappointed that there will be no season this year, the Blue Sox fully support this decision based on the long-term interests of the ABL and its teams,” SCA Sports CEO Mark Wilton said.
“We look forward to using the next 12 or so months to continue to build the Blue Sox brand on and off the field, and returning bigger and better in 2022.”
It is expected and hoped that the 2022/23 ABL season will see fewer, or no COVID-19 restrictions and that the league’s two newest teams, the Auckland Tuatara and Geelong-Korea – who each sat out the 2020/21 ABL season and were set to sit out the upcoming season – will return, marking a full eight-team league competition once more.
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