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Australia to establish new league

7/1/2009 - MLB

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australia will establish a new professional baseball league as early as next year with backing from the government and Major League Baseball.

The sport has struggled to gain a foothold in Australia, and the country's first professional league folded under heavy debts in 1999 after lasting only 10 years.

Australia's government has pledged $400,000 to help the league's development.

"Australian baseball has done a great job in securing this significant partnership with Major League Baseball -- developing up-and-coming athletes and strengthening the game in Australia," sports minister Kate Ellis told the Australian Baseball Federation's Web site.

"This funding will help baseball to develop the next generation of Australian baseball stars," Ellis said.

Paul Archey, head of MLB International, said in a statement on the Web site on Wednesday that his organization was keen to develop the sport in Australia.

"I cannot tell you when this will happen or where, but I can tell you that MLB is committed to this initiative and look forward to working with the federal government and the ABF to further develop the game of baseball in Australia through planning a new national league," he said.

The new league likely would include eight to 10 teams and schedule games between November and February, the Australian Associated Press said.

"Some people may think we're crazy with the present economic climate: 'Why would you even be thinking about doing a national league?' " ABF chairman Mark Peters said.

"Well, we've got the confidence that there are people out there that will support us and with MLB's backing, one of the best brands in the world, this will be successful," he said.

Peters said the federation had learned from the experience of other leagues and from the previous league's failure.

"One of the big issues is going to be facilities," he said. "If we're going to run a spectator-friendly sport, then we've got to have the right facilities in place.

"The days of playing on the side of rugby and football ovals are something we can't cope with if we're going to be professional," he said.