Delhi based Priyanka Baghel, a games teacher in a local school who has been competing in Senior National Softball Championships for the past decade, was excited when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board meeting — held in Mumbai from October 15 to 17 — approved the inclusion of softball/baseball, along with four other sports, for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
“It will be a big opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games,” said Delhi’s 23-year-old softball player.
However, the officials running the national governing body of softball in India — Softball Association of India (SAI) – aren’t on the same page as the players and it could be a challenging task for the national sports federation to grab the opportunity, and be part of the Indian contingent for the 2028 Olympic Games.
The national body, it seems, is unorganised, while the cash-strapped state units just go through the routine work and don’t have the will to move forward.
According to a senior player, the Delhi team members have to spend their own money to compete in the national competitions.
“There is no financial support,” the player said.
Delhi’s softball unit secretary Vijay Gaur, a physical education teacher in the Delhi Education Department, didn’t respond to calls.
The Delhi state body elections of the office-bearers are also due.
Gaur will not be eligible to become secretary for the second term of four years as per the Delhi government rules.
LR Maurya, secretary of the Uttar Pradesh state and national body admitted that it will be a challenging task to win a berth for the Olympic Games.
“If the Indian team is able to finish among the top two at the 2025 Asian Championship, it will brighten chances to compete at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Otherwise not,” said Maurya.
India’s rank in 2023 wasn’t in top eight but the country got a wild-card entry to compete at the 19th Hangzhou Asian Games held recently in China. The government, however, didn’t clear the team to compete in China.
If Maurya is to be believed, the national body too doesn’t have funds to support the players for international exposure.
“We ask the state unit to support the players financially. We generally don’t ask the players to shell out money for international events,” Maurya added.
Since state units don’t have financial resources, the players have to pay for international exposure as well as domestic competitions. It’s an arduous and long journey ahead for the enthusiastic players.
As per the website of the Softball Association of India, it has 33 affiliated units.
“It is the responsibility of the state unit, not the players’, to make arrangement for funds,” Maurya added.
A member of the Delhi state unit said they don’t have funds since softball isn’t popular as other Olympic disciplines and players have to bear their own expenses to compete in national meets.
For the upcoming national meet in Kashmir, the players will have to pay for their travel expenses, an official of the Delhi unit told Patriot on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.
Neetal Narang, president of Softball Association of India, has been at the helm of affairs for three years now.
She claimed that foreign experts and more international exposure to the national team can raise the bar.
“The players have potential and they need to improve their performance further in the continental competitions,” Neetal said of the future road map for the national team.
She was, however, reluctant to share details about which state she represented in the national body.
The national softball team didn’t get Sports Ministry’s clearance for the just concluded Asian Games. The national camp was organised here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
“It was a missed opportunity,” said one of the players who attended the camp, adding, “we don’t know why the team wasn’t given a green signal to compete at the continental games.”
The popularity of softball in Delhi can be assessed from the fact that for next month’s national championships, the players will have to fund the trip from their own pockets.
There is no financial support from the state government, said a functionary of Delhi unit.
“To organise state competition in all three groups—senior, junior and sub-junior—we roughly have to spend between Rs 2-3 lakh,” added the Delhi official. “Generating funds is a challenging task.”
Priyanka has been representing Delhi at the senior national championship for the past decade, but has no job security.
When Priyanka went to represent Delhi at the national championship last time, her salary was deducted.
“I got half of my monthly salary as I took leave to play national games,” she recalls.
Priyanka took to softball as a teenager as she wasn’t inclined towards cricket or any other sports discipline.
“There was no one to guide me. I randomly picked up softball and started practicing seriously,” she added.
Priyanka hopes that her sports experience will pay off.
“I have applied [for a job] in the postal department under the sports quota. I am waiting for the department’s response,” she added.
The Delhi state camp in preparation of next month’s national championships in Srinagar, Kashmir, is in progress. More than 20 players are attending the camp.
“Since there is no railway concession, it will be an expensive trip,” said one of the players in the camp. “We don’t know whether we will get a pocket allowance or not.”
Four national federations
The baseball scenario is equally bad at the state as well as national level. There are four baseball federations — Baseball Association of India, Amateur Baseball Federation of India, Baseball Federation of India, and Baseball and Softball Federation of India.
Due to infighting and lack of transparency, the sports ministry has suspended the baseball federation.
Competing at the Olympics
To compete at the Olympic Games, both baseball (men) and softball (women) national federations have to be under one umbrella.
The World Baseball and Softball Confederation doesn’t recognise the Indian national federations overseeing baseball and softball at the moment.
Interestingly, three sports federations have emerged in recent times in India and each one claims to be genuine but is yet to get affiliation from the World Baseball and Softball Confederation.
At the moment there are no state units of Flag Football and Lacrosse (two other sports included for 2028 Olympics) in Delhi.
“Since flag-football and lacrosse disciplines are provisionally included in the Olympic programme, there is a possibility that someone will take the initiative to set up state or national units,” a senior softball official said.