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Lee County has announced a global softball development initiative between USA Softball, World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) and European Softball Federation (ESF) that provides opportunities for European players and coaches to improve their skills in the U.S. during the off-season. The new partnership most recently resulted in the hosting of Sweden’s national softball team for a week-long team training camp, which brought six pitchers and two catchers from Sweden’s national team to train at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers.

“With close proximity to an international airport, a variety of sporting venues to fulfill different needs, and local attractions and amenities abounding, Lee County serves as a great sporting destination for international teams,” said Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County Sports Development. “This global partnership provides an opportunity to draw in athletes and coaches from around the world to see what Southwest Florida sporting is all about, and we look forward to hosting the talented team from Sweden at the City of Palms Park.”

“We are so excited to be coming to Fort Myers to breathe and get the feeling of great fields, great weather and a lot of softball.” said Mattias Grimstoft, head coach of Sweden’s national softball team. “It’s a dream come true for us.”

Ron Radigonda, executive director of World Baseball Softball Confederation – Softball Division, accentuates the importance of locating partners that can assist in the development of sports and to provide high performance training and competition facilities to enhance programs.

“The Softball Division of the WBSC is grateful for the partnership and support that Lee County is providing our member federations,” Radigonda said. “Florida and Lee County offer an opportunity to expand training time for our National Federations especially those located in the Northern Hemisphere by allowing on the field training time that would not be available due to weather in their home countries. Lee County has proven to be great destination location for our National Federations and I see a strong and long lasting partnership between Lee County and the Softball Division of the WBSC.”

“Developing and promoting the game internationally is an important mission for USA Softball,” said USA Softball Executive Director Craig Cress. “With the reinstatement of softball into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it’s vital for USA Softball to continue our efforts in growing the game globally. Partnerships with cities, Sports Commissions and CVB’s, such as Lee County, allow us to continue our efforts in providing international teams the opportunity to train with resources they may not have had otherwise. A lot goes into training camps for international teams, from the training facilities and weather all the way to housing and amenities for the athletes, coaches and staff. We have a long relationship with Lee County, and know that their efforts in providing this training opportunity for Team Sweden will only help further the team’s future international success.”

In recent years, ESF and USA Softball have partnered to present a team adoption program for European countries with a goal to assist growth among ESF members through equipment collecting, coaching clinics and materials, player enhancements, team participation in U.S. tournaments and umpire development. This partnership has been successful in other areas, specifically the St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas through the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission. Michele Smith, two-time Olympic softball champion, has been a key player in building relations within St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and now with Lee County, and will serve as a host to the Sweden team during their stay in Lee County. ESF will also be extending an opportunity for Lee County to be a sponsor at the organization’s next Congress in 2017 in Belgrade, Serbia.

“The expansion of the partnership to Lee County provides the European Softball Federation and its members an avenue to strengthen the sport of softball in Europe by providing opportunities for athletes, coaches and others interested in growing the sport worldwide,” said Ami Baran, secretary general of European Softball Federation. “We consider this relationship a pilot project that will eventually grow into a larger cooperation with the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC). We are sure that this cooperation between the European Softball Federation and Lee County will eventually expand to the other worldwide confederations as it has done with Smith and the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission.”

Lee County Sports Development was created in 2003 to meet the growing demand for sports development in Lee County, and is recognized by the Florida Sports Foundation as one of the state’s 25 Regional Sports Commissions. The Lee County Sports Development office leads the recruitment and implementation of amateur and professional sports events and activities in Lee County, with the goal of providing economic impact to Lee County. Through local partnerships with Lee County Parks & Recreation and others, the Lee County Sports Development office provides services designed to address the needs of local, national and international sports entities including housing, access to venues, event management, transportation assistance, event promotion, marketing and local sponsorship opportunities. For more information, call 239-533-5273 or visit www.leegov.com/sports.