Highlights from the WBSC Congress in Japan

Thu 5 Dec 2019

The third global Congress of the World Baseball Softball Confederation was held on 19-22 November in Sakai, Japan, and an intense round of Board and commission meetings, plus a plenary session, produced a number of announcements and decisions.

A total of 330 delegates representing 138 member organisations from 97 countries and regions (including associate members) attended the Congress, with BSF President Jenny Fromer there  to represent British softball and Mike Jennings also present to lobby on behalf of the WBSC’s promised Slowpitch World Cup.

Opening address

WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari (above, centre) opened the Congress by talking about what he sees as the key to the sports gaining a permanent place on the Olympic programme: “the globalisation of baseball and softball and the quality of our tournaments."

"Globalisation is synonymous with development," Fraccari said.  "In the last few months, we have worked hard to include baseball and softball in Continental Games, including the Asian Games in 2022 in Hangzhou, China and the Pan American Games in 2023 in Santiago, Chile."

"It was not easy,” Fraccari told the delegates, “and the difficulties derive precisely from the meagre development of our disciplines in the countries that will host these Continental Games.

"We must redefine and strengthen the role of the Continental Associations,” Fraccari said, “including a revision of our Statutes to have them actively present in the WBSC Executive.  The goal is to design and implement together a really comprehensive and thorough development plan.

"Development," Fraccari added, "involves another fundamental aspect: youth appeal and youth involvement.  We have to think about whether our disciplines are still attractive today, because we know well that today young people live and consume sport differently from the past.

“Here, then, is the need for our games to be faster, shorter.  The need to dress the sporting events with collateral initiatives.  Any simple game should turn into an event."

Fraccari also spoke about the commitment of the WBSC to use media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as communications instruments.

"Across our social platforms combined we touched over 300 million people [in 2018-19],” Fraccari said.  “Thanks to exclusive partnerships with Twitter in Japan and Facebook in the USA, Canada and Mexico, our baseball Premier12 event doubled its social media reach from its previous and already impressive inaugural edition.  Another interesting figure is the over 16,000 articles published by conventional media on the Premier12 during competition time.  This means over 1,000 articles a day just about our flagship event.

"Today more than ever it is essential that our competitions, above all the major ones,
are capable of producing resources to spread and develop our disciplines," said Fraccari.  "Otherwise all our projects will remain on paper only.  But today, thanks to a scrupulous management of our Federation and a rigorous use of our resources, we can say that we have reached an economic stability that allows us to look to the future with a little more serenity."

Fraccari ended by saying: "Together with our baseball and softball sporting platform and exciting competitions, we can continue to move forward and provide first-class events that will increasingly globalise our disciplines, attract new sponsors, generate more resources -- but above all will develop the baseball and softball athletes of the future.  We are a fantastic sporting family."

Slowpitch World Cup

One of the BSF’s main concerns in attending the Congress was to find out what progress had been made by the WBSC in organising the promised Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup, a new world championship competition involving national teams that was originally announced for the autumn of 2020.

Although the WBSC is still committed to getting this new and important slowpitch competition off the ground, indications are that the spring of 2021 may now be a likelier date, as it is a less pressured time in the WBSC’s global competitions schedule.  The probable venue is Clearwater, Florida, although an official host for the tournament will need to be identified.

Before that can happen, the WBSC will need to draw up regulations for organising the competition, and this process is now under way.

There is interest in this tournament from around the world, but no clear indication yet about how many countries might want to attend and whether the WBSC will want to limit overall numbers and the number of countries from each of its world regions.

More information is expected soon.

Olympic Games

Softball and baseball will be looking forward to their return to the Olympic Games during the summer of 2020 in Tokyo, WBSC Executive Director Michael Schmidt told the Congress.

“We’re positive that the Organising Committee, together with the WBSC, will deliver a very good Olympic Games for our sports,” Schmidt said, “so that the fans and our athletes can enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.

“We’re working very closely with the International Olympic Committee,” he added, “and we’re very close to having perfect conditions.”

The softball competition will be a six-team tournament playing a full round-robin, with the first and second-placed teams competing for the gold medal and third and fourth-placed teams playing for bronze.  Six of the 17 games will be played in Fukushima, with the rest of the matches staged in Yokohama.

Italy will be the European representative in the competition after defeating the GB Women’s Team in the final of the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier this past July in the Netherlands.

For baseball, the six teams will be allocated into two groups.  After the Opening Round, all six teams will advance to a double-elimination bracket to define the three medal winners.  One game will be staged in Fukushima, while the other 16 will be played in Yokohama.

Reduction in World Cup entries

At a meeting of the WBSC Softball Division Board held during the Congress, a decision was taken to reduce the number of participants in some WBSC Fastpitch World Cups over the next few years on the basis of a desire for “quality over quantity”.  The results are:

  • Women’s World Cup -- This will remain at 16 entries, as in the past, for 2021 and 2023.
  • Men’s World Cup – This will remain at 12 entries.
  • Under-23 Men’s World Cup – This will remain at 12 entries (no change) for 2021 and 2023.
  • Under-18 Women’s World Cup – This tournament will have 16 entries in 2020 but will then be reduced to 12 entries for 2022.
  • Under-18 Men’s World Cup – This will remain at 12 entries (no change) for 2020 and 2022.
  • Under-15 Women’s World Cup – This has been reduced from 12 to 8 entries for 2021 and 2023.
  • Under-12 Mixed-Gender World Cup – This has been reduced from 12 to 8 entries for 2021 and 2023.

The Board also voted on the distribution of places for the eight-team World Cups, which will be one place each for Africa, Europe and Oceania; two places for the Americas; two places for Asia; and one wild card place.  How the wild card place will be determined or decided is not clear at this stage.

New WBSC members

The WBSC welcomed seven new members to its family during the Congress, with the following countries unanimously voted in by those present: 

Bermuda Baseball
Laos Baseball
Benin Baseball and Softball
Bangladesh Baseball and Softball
Palestine Baseball and Softball
Egypt Baseball and Softball
Kosovo Baseball and Softball

This brings the total number of WBSC member federations to 198, plus 13 associate members.

The Nauru Federation had its membership withdrawn on grounds of inactivity following a recommendation by the country’s National Olympic Committee.

First Under-18 Women’s World Cup awarded to Peru

The first-ever WBSC Under-18 Women’s World Cup (previously, this event was played at Under-19 level) will be held in Lima, Peru from 21-30 August 2020, marking the first time a softball World Cup will have been held in Latin America since 2012.

At this point, a total of 12 teams have secured their participation in the 16-team competition, shown below with their world rankings:

  • Africa (2):  To be determined
  • Americas (5):  #1 USA, #3 Canada, #4 Puerto Rico, #5 Mexico, #20 Peru
  • Asia (3):  #2 Japan, #6 Chinese Taipei, #8 China
  • Europe (3):   #9 Italy, #10 Netherlands, #15 Czech Republic
  • Oceania (2):  To be determined
  • Wild Card (1):  #13 Philippines

The Softball Division Board awarded a wild-card entry to the tournament to the Philippines, a country currently 13th in the WBSC world rankings (Great Britain is 12th).

The three European entries were not decided on the field of play.  Because there was no host for a planned ESF U-18 Women’s Qualifier for this event in 2019, the tournament was not held and the three European places automatically went to Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic because they are currently ranked #1-3 in the overall ESF rankings (GB is fourth).

The last WBSC Under-19 Women’s Softball World Championship was held in Irvine, California, in August of this year.  The USA defeated Japan 4-3 in eight innings in the final and claimed its third consecutive world title in this category.

Open Workshops

Four Open Workshops were held during the Congress with the tagline of “Empowering the Member Federations”: a Coach Commission, workshops on the WBSC Scoring Application, OTT Platform and website, and a workshop on the development of Baseball5.  All were well-attended.

The largest number of participants attended the workshop on Baseball5, the urban version of baseball/softball that the WBSC has developed and promoted over the past couple of years and which it now recognises as a third discipline of the sport.  Baseball5 has already spread to 69 countries, and a first-ever Baseball5 World Cup will be held in Mexico next year.

The WBSC Coach Commission introduced member federations to a new Coach Licensing system.  Training and certification of coaches in future will be carried out by 21 Continental Instructors (11 for baseball and 10 for softball) that the WBSC trained and licensed in October in Viera, Florida.

Coaches that need to operate at a grassroots level will be trained and certified through a generic three-day baseball/softball course that will not include instruction on pitching and catching, but these coaches won't need to go through final tests.

Level 1 certification will be for coaches that need to work at Under-12 and Under-15 levels. These courses will have an entry and exit exam and will last four days.

Levels 3 and 4 certification will be for coaches that need to operate at the upper level of the sport.  Tests will be run through a digital platform and the WBSC Development Commission will be in charge of approving requests to host courses by National Federations.

"We aren’t pretending to invent anything new," said Coach Commission Chair Marco Mazzieri.  "We are trying to put a structure together."

The WBSC’s Scoring Application, Management System and website were the focus in two other workshops.

WBSC scorers are using a customised version of the MyBallclub App, and National Federations that want to test it can download it from the Android and iOS online stores.

The WBSC Management System allows tournament set-up, including rosters and game schedules.  The environment has been developed since 2017 and is now integrated with WBSC website.

Development projects

WBSC Development Commission Chair Angelo Vicino presented overall results from the Commission’s work in 2018-19 to the Congress.

National Federations submitted a total of 90 different projects to the WBSC Development Commission throughout the period, of which 75 (83%) were accepted and funded, and only four rejected, while 11 projects are still going through the approval process.

The majority of requests (39) came from European National Federations, while 20 came from Africa, 12 from Asia, 10 from the Americas and nine from Oceania.

The BSF submitted a request to the Development Commission to help the GB Women’s Fastpitch Team in their quest to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and received a grant of US$8,000.

Vicini said, "The majority of requests came for equipment, clinics for coaches and clinics for umpires and scorers.  We will have to evaluate needs and how the equipment will be used before we distribute it in the future."

Vicini also told the Congress that the highest amount of funding went directly to Continental Confederations.

“Continental Confederations are the key to development,” Vicini said, “and we are happy to see how they are now more involved.  But the Development Commission still needs more cooperation."

The WBSC Executive had approved a budget of $1,190,000 to support development in 2018 and 2019, and a total $676,491 was allocated.  "Besides these financial resources," added Vicini, "another amount of $439,317 has been allocated for the development of Baseball5.

"Various National Federations are starting to get familiar with the procedure," he added, “and we will need a more efficient information exchange process between the WBSC office, Continental organisations, the Commission Chair and Commission Members."

Individual awards

The WBSC presented individual awards for 2018 and 2019 at a ceremony that took place during the Gala Dinner that closed the 2019 Congress.

WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari presented awards to the Federations of the Year:

  • The baseball Federation of 2018 was Colombia (Federación Colombiana de BéIsbol).
  • The baseball Federation of 2019 was Chinese Taipei (Chinese Taipei Baseball Association).
  • The softball Federation of 2018 was Mexico (Federación Méxicana de Softbol).
  • The softball Federation of 2019 was China (Chinese Softball Association).

WBSC Softball Division Chairman Tommy Velazquez presented individual awards to softball coaches, umpires and athletes:

  • The softball coach of 2018 was Kenneth Scott Eriksen, the manager of the World Champion USA Women's National Team.
  • The softball coach of 2019 was Julio Ismael Gamarci, Manager of the World Champion Argentina Men's National Team.
  • The softball umpire of 2018 was Kyira Cox (Australia).  She worked the gold medal game at the Women's World Cup 2018 and showed tremendous improvement, with the highest point score among umpires.
  • The softball umpire of 2019 was David Selden III (USA).  He worked as the home plate umpire at the Under-19 Men's World Cup 2018 and in the Men's World Cup 2019, and is regarded as a very strong umpire who is dedicated to the game.
  • The softball athlete of 2018 was Haylie Ann McCleney, the best player at the Women's Softball World Cup 2018.
  • The softball athlete of 2019 was Hikaru Matsuda, the best player at the Men's Softball World Cup 2019.

WBSC Vice President Willy Kaltschmitt presented awards to baseball coaches:

  • The baseball coach of 2018 was Megumi Kitta, the manager of Madonna Japan, the Japanese Women's Baseball National Team.
  • The baseball coach of 2019 was Tsung Chih-Chou, the manager of the World Champion Under-18 Chinese Taipei National Team.

WBSC Secretary General Beng Choo Low presented awards to the baseball umpires of the year:

  • The baseball umpire of 2018 was Kevin Sweeney (USA).
  • The baseball umpire of 2019 was Erwin Zambrano (Mexico).

WBSC Executive Board Member Beatrice Allen presented awards to the baseball athletes of the year:

  • The baseball athlete of 2018 was Cody Schrier, a star middle infielder on the World Champion USA Under-15 National Team.
  • The baseball athlete of 2019 was Robert Hassell, a star outfielder on the USA National Team, runner up at the Under-18 Baseball World Cup.

WBSC Scoring Commission President Anna Maria Paini presented awards to the scorers of the year:

  • The 2018 scorer of the year was Linda Steijger (the Netherlands) for her support in drafting the Scorer's Manual.
  • The 2019 scorer of the year was Jeannie Moloney (AUS) for her global support for scorers.

Hall of Fame entrants

A total of 13 players from eight countries were among 23 new entrants to the WBSC Softball Hall of Fame announced at the Congress.  The Hall of Fame now has 249 members from 38 countries.

In addition to the 13 players, the 2019 class includes three umpires, three administrators, one coach and three awards for meritorious service.  Three countries inducted their first-ever Hall of Famer.

The new members of the WBSC Softball Hall of Fame are:

Luis Candelario Rosales (Player, Argentina)
Oscar Bolzan (Player, Argentina)
Tanya Harding (Player, Australia)
Fiona Crawford (Player, Australia)
Milton Konno (Meritorious Service, Brazil)
Taketomi Higashi (Meritorious Service, Brazil)
Melanie Mathews (Player, Canada)
Kevin Quinn (Administrator, Canada)
Lui Yaming (Coach, China)
Yan Fang (Player, China)
Maria Teresa Mejia Mora (Umpire, Colombia)
Roberto Castro (Administrator, Costa Rica)
Gerardo Aguirre (Administrator, Guatemala)
Haruka Saito (Player, Japan)
Tomoaki Okamoto (Player, Japan)
Juri Takayama (Player, Japan)
Nardi Leonard (Player, New Zealand)
Bill Massey (Player, New Zealand)
Wiremu Tamaki (Umpire, New Zealand)
Hector Avila (Player, Panama)
Marisa Matsuda (Meritorious Service, Peru)
Chin-Ling Chang Chien (Player, Chinese Taipei)
Julie Johnson (Umpire, USA)

The WBSC also presented Order of Honour awards at the Congress, the supreme award that the organisation can bestow, to people who contribute to the development and foundations of the sports; and an Order of the Golden Diamond award, for people who have developed the ideals of baseball/softball and widened the horizons of innovation and research within the sports.

The Order of Honour Award was presented to Mr Ryozo Kato and Mr Katsuhiko Kumazaki, while the Order of the Golden Diamond was awarded to Mr Dale McMann.

Ryozo Kato is a Japanese lawyer and career diplomat who served as the Japanese Ambassador to the United States from 2001 to 2008 and also served as the Commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball.

Katsuhiko Kumazaki also served as the Commissioner for the Nippon Professional Baseball League and was a key figure in the start and continued success of baseball’s Premier12 concept.  He was a key figure in the return of baseball to the 2020 Olympics.

Dale McMann’s involvement in sport has been extensive.  He served as President of Softball British Columbia between 1986 and 1990 and of Softball Canada from 1990 to 2001.  He first joined the International Softball Federation (ISF) in 1993 and served as North American Vice-President of the Federation until 2009, when he was elected as First Vice-President.  He was appointed President of the ISF in 2013, succeeding Don Porter, and served from 2013 to 2017.  Dale McMann was at the helm of the ISF during the critical years of the merger of baseball and softball into the WBSC.

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