Riccardo Fraccari has pledged to add new impetus to the drive to return baseball and softball to the Olympic programme following his election as the first-ever sole president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
Dating back to 2012, International Baseball Federation (IBAF) president Fraccari helped guide and deliver the birth of the WBSC as an interim co-president, alongside International Softball Federation (ISF) counterpart Don Porter. The American elected to stand aside in the race for the WBSC presidency leading Fraccari to be elected unopposed for an initial seven-year term that extends to 2021.
The WBSC Congress, which took place over the weekend in the North African city of Hammamet, also elected its first-ever executive board, formalising a complex merger of baseball and softball's two independent international sport federations.
The initial election term, which applies to the entire WBSC Executive Board, was extended beyond 2020 by the Congress ahead of the elections, in order to better guarantee the new president and board a sufficient time frame with which to formulate/implement a mid- and long-term growth plan for the new international federation. Following the next round of elections in 2021, voting will take place every four years, always in the year following the summer Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to throw the two sports off the Olympic Programme in July 2005, and the last appearance of baseball and softball at the Games was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As separate bids, the two sports then failed to make it onto the programme of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with golf and rugby sevens being added instead. More disappointment came when baseball/softball lost out to wrestling for a place on the 2020 summer Games programme in Tokyo in an IOC vote late last year.
Speaking in February, IOC president Thomas Bach confirmed he would be in favour of scrapping a rule that forces a sport to wait seven years before it can be considered for a place on the programme of the Olympic Games. Bach, who is keen to modernise aspects of the IOC, said that the rule is “more or less obsolete” and added that even though the rule is included in the Olympic Charter, that would not be a major obstacle to having it removed.
Baseball and softball are both hugely popular in 2020 Olympic host nation Japan and Bach’s comments were interpreted as potentially giving hope of inclusion for the two sports. Commenting on the WBSC’s Olympic ambitions, Fraccari said: “The WBSC will absolutely press forward to further globalise, commercialise and protect our exclusive properties, the national team event platforms – which I anticipate will continue their increase in terms of market value and global reach – in order to show what can be delivered to the Olympic Games, especially during this critical 'Olympic Agenda 2020' review. The WBSC will put its full trust and confidence in the IOC, and I hope — and we are working very hard – so that one day our athletes and our sport can be part of the Olympic Games.
“As baseball and softball's global footprint deepens, I want to put the growth of our sport under the Olympic umbrella to help further enhance and sustain the uniqueness, year-round message, visibility and economic positioning of the Olympic Games for the collective benefit of the Olympic Family and its partners – to help grow world sport together.”
Fraccari added: “With the merger finalised and the executive board elected, we are more prepared than ever and we have solidified a foundation from which to provide the best opportunities and the best future for our athletes and sport disciplines. This historic moment is a significant breakthrough for the governance, sustained growth and partnership of baseball and softball.”