Fourteen national federations of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) have joined together to found the Francophone Association of Baseball Softball (AFBS) in another step by the world governing body to boost its position in attempting to return the sports to the Olympic programme.
AFBS will promote and develop the two sports in the ‘Francophonie’ network of 77 French-speaking counties and provinces that represent 890 million people worldwide. The national federations of Belgium, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Ghana, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Togo and Tunisia have all signed up to AFBS.
Alongside the WBSC, the AFBS will place a particular focus on Africa where French is widely spoken and where baseball and softball have experienced an increase in participating numbers.
The new organisation has been launched in the wake of last month’s WBSC Congress in Tunisia, where Riccardo Fraccari pledged to add new impetus to the drive to return the sports to the Olympic programme following his election as the first-ever sole president of the WBSC.
The AFBS’s development programme will focus on the production, sharing and distribution of French-language baseball-softball literature and teaching materials such as rules, training manuals, introductory items for grassroots development, as well as school physical education programmes.
In addition, kit donations will be organised to support ongoing programmes within the Francophonie markets and to provide tools to introduce new programmes to help increase opportunities for youngsters in the two sports. The AFBS will also focus on demonstrating how baseball and softball are accessible avenues into sport, and encourage physical activity and the health benefits of sport.
“Under the guidance of the WBSC, AFBS aims to increase the spread of baseball and softball knowledge and practice in French-speaking regions – especially in Africa, where new baseball and softball construction projects have been taking place and where additional support is needed to optimise growth,” AFBS president Didier Seminet said.
The AFBS will also be responsible for planning the new 2017 Youth Under-12 Mixed Baseball Francophone Championship, which will take place every four years. AFBS leadership will explore whether the inaugural event can be staged alongside the 2017 Francophone Games in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in order to make a case for baseball and softball to be included in future editions of the Francophone Games.
WBSC president Fraccari (pictured) added: "French is a global language and it is the official language of the Olympic Movement. This new advancement highlights the increasing relevance and universal appeal of baseball-softball in new and emerging territories, where they are steadily gaining a foothold and being taught in schools and on the playgrounds – and becoming more immersed in the culture as a sport that anyone can play and enjoy."
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.