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Manawatū 'ready to step up' as first regional association to host U-18 World Softball Championship

New Zealand has been given the rights to host a seventh Softball World Championship but for the first time it will be hosted by a regional association instead of one of the main city centres.

Palmerston North and Manawatū Softball have been given the hosting rights to the Junior Men's World Championship in February, 2020.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) made the announcement in Rome on Monday, saying Softball New Zealand had proved they were capable of staging a world class tournament and pipped Canada, USA, Argentina and the Czech Republic to the prize.

The under-18s tournament will be held at Palmerston North's Colquhoun Park - a venue Softball NZ CEO Tony Giles says will be upgraded and transformed to host the event.

"I’m incredibly excited the event will be held in Palmerston North," Giles said.

"Palmerston North, led by Mayor Grant Smith and his council has provided outstanding support and leadership for our game in recent years, and we are truly excited to be partnering provincial New Zealand to showcase this world class sporting opportunity."

Black Sox outfielder Wayne Laulu talks to Manawatu Softball players during a 2018 training camp at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North.
Black Sox outfielder Wayne Laulu talks to Manawatū Softball players during a 2018 training camp at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North. Source: Softball NZ

Manawatū Softball will be the first regional association to host a world cup for New Zealand with previous events such as the senior men's world championships being held in Lower Hutt (1976), Christchurch (2004) and Auckland (2013).

Auckland also hosted the 1986 women's world championships and will again host the senior men in 2021.

Manawatū Softball chairperson Alison Kensington said it's a great honour to be named the hosts.

"We are ready to step up," she told 1 NEWS.

"We have been working closely with the Palmerston North City Council to upgrade our two all weather diamonds and also upgrade all our facilities at Colquhoun Park."

The Black Sox held an autograph session with Manawatū Softball players at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North after their training camp.
The Black Sox held an autograph session with Manawatū Softball players at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North after their training camp. Source: Softball NZ

Softball is also growing more popular as a summer sport in Manawatū, Kensington said, with the world champion Black Sox even hosting a training camp in the region last year to engage with the next generation of players.

"We have been consistently building our player base and successfully hosting National tournaments.

"The growth in playing numbers has been steadily growing in the past two seasons. This season sees a total of 27 senior teams, 11 High School teams and 40 Junior teams an overall increase of 20 per cent.

"This is a reward for all our hard work."

Junior Black Sox Reilly Makea bats against Czech Republic.
Junior Black Sox Reilly Makea bats against Czech Republic. Source: Softball NZ

Mayor Grant Smith added the city would do everything they can to ensure the nine-day tournament, which will run from February 22 - March 1 with 12 countries participating, is a success.

"Palmerston North hosts many large-scale sports events. Hosting a world championship allows us to showcase how a regional city can support an international event," he said.

"Our softball players have shown how they lead the world with their performance - the city will showcase to the world New Zealand hospitality and world-class facilities."

The Junior Men's World Championship has only been held in the southern hemisphere three of the previous 11 times - Argentina in 2012, Australia in 2001 and Auckland in 1993.

In the last three championships, the Junior Black Sox have placed in the top three with silver medals in 2014 and 2016 and a bronze last year. New Zealand last won the championship in 1989.

Junior Black Sox pitcher Joshua Kelly.
Junior Black Sox pitcher Joshua Kelly at the 2018 Junior Men's Softball World Cup. Source: WBSC