Olympics dominate WBSC Congress

Wed 14 May 2014

The question of baseball/softball's possible reinstatement to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo dominated both discussions and strategic thinking at the first-ever Congress of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), held in Hammamet, Tunisia on 10-11 May.

BSF Treasurer Mike Jennings represented British Softball at the Congress, while BBF President Earl Dix was there for British Baseball.  Over 200 delegates from baseball and softball National Federations attended.
 

Olympic hopes

Despite the fact that baseball/softball's bid to return to the Olympic programme in 2020 was seemingly thwarted last year when the sports came second to wrestling in a vote at the 125th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress in Buenos Aires, events since then have suggested that inclusion might still be possible.

A new IOC President, Thomas Bach from Germany, took office in Buenos Aires, and has vowed to review the process by which sports are selected for the Games.  Bach has hinted at the possibility of baseball and softball returning to the Olympic programme in Japan, where the sports are hugely popular. 

A decision is expected at an Extraordinary IOC Congress in December.

So there was a mood of cautious optimism at the WBSC Congress, where all delegates were agreed that Olympic reinstatement was the top priority for the sports.  The desire to do everything possible to make this happen was reflected in decisions reached during the Congress sessions.

The aim is for the sports to be returned to the Olympic programme, not just for 2020 as a concession to the Japanese hosts, but on a permanent basis.

A keynote speech on the subject was delivered by Antonio Castro, son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the Chief Medical Officer for the Cuban Olympic team at London 2012.

Castro said: “My dream is same as millions, to see baseball and softball back in Olympics.

“But the most important thing is not only to think about Tokyo 2020,” Castro said.  “We also need to focus beyond and be more globalised.  We need to work with boys and work with girls and see the future.  We want to go back inside the Olympics, not only for 2020 but for our whole life.”
 

Elections

The WBSC was established through a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and International Softball Federation (ISF) in 2012, and the organisation was officially founded in 2013.  It is now the IOC-recognised authority for the two sports.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, during which a Constitution for the new organisation was drawn up, debated and agreed, IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari and ISF President Don Porter shared the Co-Presidency of the WBSC. 

But the WBSC Constitution mandates a single President, which is also the preference of the IOC, and so a President plus other members of the WBSC Executive Board were elected during the Congress in Hammamet.

Following the withdrawal of 83-year-old Don Porter from the ballot, IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari was elected as WBSC President.  Fraccari told the Congress: “Today is a day that will remain in the history of baseball and softball.  Today, we finalise a process that started long ago, and begin a new one that is more challenging and complex, but I am convinced it will help the development and the spread of our sports, making them truly global.  This union does not erase our past, but rather, it unites baseball's and softball's legacies.”

“More than ever before,” Fraccari added, “we have to demonstrate the full integration of our baseball/softball family to confirm that we are not only fully committed but that we are prepared to accept the great responsibility of being on the Olympic programme.  This is the reason why this Congress, which paves the way for a new direction and new opportunities, is so important.”

The Secretary-General for the WBSC will be ISF Secretary-General Low Beng Choo, and the Treasurer will be San Marino Olympic Committee member Angeolo Vicini.

There will be one Executive Vice-President from each sport.  Softball's Executive VP will be ISF President Dale McMann, while Israel Roldan from Puerto Rico will represent baseball in that role.

Four members-at-large were elected to the Executive. Ron Finlay from Australia and Paul Seiler from the USA were elected for baseball, while softball elected female and male representatives in Taeko Utsugi from Japan and Tommy Velazquez from Puerto Rico.  The WBSC Constitution requires that there be at least one representative from each gender among the four at-large Board members.

IOC members Reynaldo Gonzalez of Cuba (baseball) and Meliton Sanchez of Panama (softball) were also appointed as Vice Presidents.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan softball star Maria Soto will serve as an Athlete Representative on the Executive alongside a current baseball player who will be elected later this year, taking the WSBC Executive Board to a total of 13 members.

Riccardo Fraccari said: “I have great confidence and trust in my fellow Executive Board members who were elected in Hammamet – they have a deep understanding of sport and have the best interests of our athletes and sports in mind.  This historic moment is a significant breakthrough for the governance, sustained growth and partnership of baseball and softball."
 

Decisions

One of the key issues debated at the Congress was whether the new Executive should serve for an initial period of seven years – until after the 2020 Olympics – or whether it should serve a three-year term with new elections in 2017.

The IOC has suggested that dealing with the same officials all the way through a period of potential Olympic reinstatement would be helpful.  But the counter-argument is that baseball/softball will know during the next three years whether they are to be re-instated in 2020, and if the answer turns out to be “no”, it would make sense to elect a new Executive in 2017 to take the organisation and the sports in a new direction.

In the end, the vote on this question was closer than many expected, but the Congress decided that the Executive should serve a seven-year term until 2021, after which elections will revert to being every four years.
 

Slowpitch World Cup

During the Congress, there were various breakout groups, and the question of the Slowpitch World Cup was raised at the ISF breakout session by Mike Jennings.

Following the success of the Slowpitch World Cup played in Plant City, Florida in January this year, ISF President Dale McMann supports a continuing competition, but the format will need to be finalised through discussion between potential participants and the ISF.  If the competition could be designated as a World Championship rather than a Cup, many believe it will enhance opportunities for funding on a national level.

There are various possibilities along these lines, including an annual competition that alternated between a World Club Championship, where countries could send more than one club team, and a World National Championship where each country could send only one national or club team. 

More discussion is needed, but meanwhile, the ISF is planning to run the next Slowpitch World Cup in Plant City in November 2015.
 

Other softball matters

In other softball news from the Congress, it was announced that former Softball New Zealand Chair Rex Capil will head a new ISF Commission to develop men's softball, and that the 2017 Junior Women's World Championship has been awarded to Clearwater, Florida.

Closer to home, it was announced that all games from the European Men's Championships this summer in the Czech Republic will be televised, as will the concluding games from the ISF Women's World Championships in the Netherlands.

GB teams will be competing in both tournaments.
 

Baseball matters

Meanwhile, BBF President Earl Dix attended a European baseball meeting on the Friday evening before the start of the Congress.

CEB President Jan Esselman reported that brand new CEB offices are opening up in Zagreb, courtesy of the CEB Secretary General Krunoslav Karin from Croatia and the Sports Association of the City of Zagreb.  The building also houses the Croatian Paralympic Association and other sports bodies.

Esselman also announced that CEB has secured a ball sponsorship with Mizuno for all European youth tournaments and the European Championships.

On the umpire front, Esselman said that Europe’s top 20 umpires will be invited to a Larry Young umpire course.  MLB is very keen to use some European umpires in the next World Baseball Classic in 2017 and this training event will be part of the preparation.  Many of those 20 umpires will be working at the European Championships in Germany and Czech Republic this year from 12-21 September, where the Great Britain team will be taking on the powers of Europe.

All the European Championship games from Regensburg, where Team GB will play in the opening round, will be streamed live on the internet and all Czech National Team games will be shown on Czech television.

The meeting ended with a short presentation from Justine Siegal, an Athletes’ Representative on the World Baseball Softball Confederation Executive Board.  She is encouraging women’s baseball in Europe and is trying to set up a tournament.

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