June 26, 2015

ARUJA, Brazil (AP) Forget about batting practice or fielding drills. Brazil's softball team is spending its time ahead of the Pan American Games hunting for money.

Without enough funds from the local federation to fully pay for practice and training trips, the players decided to take action to make sure the team is ready for next month's games in Toronto.

That means they are trying to find time to manage a crowdfunding project and sell equipment and products to help cover their costs - all while trying to practice. They created social media campaigns to promote their cause, and are asking for friends and relatives to get the word out.

''We were frustrated because we couldn't get much help from the confederation,'' pitcher Camila Mayumi Silva told The Associated Press. ''We know it's not our role as players to be doing this, but we got tired of waiting and decided to get things going.''

Softball is far from a popular sport in Brazil, played mostly by clubs linked to the local Japanese community. Thirteen of the 15 players going to Toronto are of Japanese descent.

The Brazilian Olympic Committee gave about $12,500 to help the softball team prepare for Toronto, but baseball and softball confederation officials said they would need nearly $100,000 to properly train a team for the tournament. The committee said in a statement that it ''decided to prioritize its investments on Olympics sports'' because of the 2016 Rio Games.

''There is not much we can do,'' confederation president Jorge Otsuka said. ''We are not able to help more because we don't have the money to do it. We wished it was different, but it's not. The players came to us saying they would try to make some money themselves to help the team, and we said, `No problem, go for it.' It was all we could say.''

For the trip to Canada, nearly all costs will be paid by the committee, including the plane tickets for all players. But money was needed for practice trips, meals and other costs. Some will help cover costs from an important preparation trip to Puerto Rico.

The players have already gathered about $10,000, including nearly $3,000 raised by the crowdfunding project. About 40 people have made donations since the project was created in March.

Most of the money collected has come from the sale of a customized gym towel created by the players. More than 1,000 towels - with the green, yellow, blue and white colors of the Brazilian flag - have been sold at a cost of about $8 each, totaling nearly $5,000 in profits. The players are also reselling playing equipment brought from the United States, including gloves and cleats. A local restaurant has pledged to donate part of its profits from hamburger sales.

The women's team has been practicing for the Pan Am Games only on weekends, and each time players have to travel from different parts of the country. Some need nine-hour bus trips just get to the training site, and many stay at the homes of local players to save lodging costs.

Many of the players going to Toronto are amateurs and have regular jobs or study in Brazil. Five are playing in colleges and universities in the United States, and one is a semi-professional athlete in Japan.

''We are all volunteers in this. I have to work and go to the gym every day to stay in shape and at the same time I have to worry about finding money to help the national team,'' said the 26-year-old Silva, a marketing analyst. ''It shouldn't be like this. Our only focus should be on training and getting ready for the games, not gathering money. But unfortunately it's not like that.''

Brazil will be one of six teams competing in the women's tournament, along with the hosts, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the United States. The goal for the Brazilians - the South American champion - is to try to win the bronze medal. The U.S. and Canada are the title favorites.

''These girls have been through a lot,'' said Paulo Tanaka, the national team's chief of delegation. ''I'm sure they will do everything they can to come back with a medal.''

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