Gary AndersonAs baseball and softball's first official family get-together draws to a close in the sunny seaside resort of Hammamet, Tunisia, the newly ratified World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is gearing up to launch a two-pronged attack on the international sporting arena and the key message that has pervaded the two-day inaugural Congress is the possibilities that can be achieved as a unified force.

While those may ultimately include Olympic participation, the key to the success of both sports is growth and development at all levels, according to the infant organisation's maternal head, Low Beng Choo.

Before being elected as the WBSC's first full-time secretary general here at Congress, the Malaysian occupied the role on an interim basis as the two sporting cousins of baseball and softball began the process of, if not singing from the same hymn sheet, then sharing the same hymnbook. Now, less than 18 months on from when the merger of the International Softball Federation (ISF) and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) was first agreed in December 2012, wedding rings have been swapped, the bells have rung and both have walked down the aisle glove-in-glove.

For the majority of delegates from more than 200 national federations spanning 141 nations and territories here at the inaugural gathering, the best wedding present that could be had is a place on the programme of sports at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

While a seat at the biggest sporting party of them all in six years' time is an exciting prospect for Low Beng Choo, she told insidethegames that in the longer term the growth and development of baseball and softball at all levels and in new territories remains a crucial goal of the WBSC going forward.

"Of course our primary goal is for Tokyo 2020 but that's not the end," said Low Beng Choo, who is also vice-president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.

"The WBSC is not just about the Olympics but it is about the development of all our disciplines. We want to make sure that our other disciplines such as men's softball and women's baseball plus all our disciplines don't fall through the crack.

"The WBSC is creating Commissions especially to look into this so that, for example, the women's baseball people don't feel like they are not a part of it and the men's softball people also. We are telling them from day one that they are very much a part of our disciplines."

The WBSC will continue to push hard for Tokyo 2020 but global development at all levels is also a key target for Low Beng Choo ©Getty Images The WBSC will continue to push hard for Tokyo 2020 but global development at all levels is also a key target for Low Beng Choo ©Getty Images

The concept of the WBSC came into being primarily out of the desire for a return to the Olympics but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were still not convinced that the reforms and changes it sought in baseball and softball - including greater cooperation with various professional leagues around the world and maintaining international growth - were met when it decided to retain wrestling for Tokyo 2020 at its Session in Buenos Aires last September.

The WBSC has insisted that these areas are being addressed and that progress is being made and following his confirmation as President, Italian Riccardo Fraccari revealed he is planning to meet with IOC President Thomas Bach in the coming months to help persuade the IOC to reconsider its decision to omit the sports from Tokyo.

That meeting comes after Bach intimated that baseball and softball were not totally ruled out of appearing at the 2020 Games in a country where both enjoy huge popularity.

A final decision is due be made at an Extraordinary Session of the IOC which is set to take place in Monte Carlo on December 8 and 9 as part of the German's Agenda 2020 campaign.

Successful or not, Low Beng Choo, who has been secretary general of the ISF since 2009, believes that with the ratification of a new Constitution and the installing of Fraccari - who had been acting co-President of the WBSC along with former ISF chief Don Porter, who decided not to run in the election here - the WBSC membership has demonstrated their faith in how the organisation was run during the interim period and more importantly where it is going.

"I think the membership appreciated that a lot of work has been done to get the WBSC going and they appreciate that there is much more to do," said the Malaysian.

"I mean we hope that there will be a confirmation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in December, but the membership realise that it's not just about that. So I think the membership showed that they have the confidence in the team and that this is the team that will lead us in the next step.

"It's a long journey and the people that started it; they [the members] would like them to at least plot it to a certain level. For any sport to develop it takes a long time to plan and to develop and to talk. I think that message has been made and we have been given a strong mandate to continue."

Low Beng Choo and Riccardo Fraccari (front row, centre) have been entrusted to lead the WBSC after elections at its inaugural Congress in Hammamet ©WBSCLow Beng Choo and Riccardo Fraccari (front row, centre) have been entrusted to lead the WBSC after elections at its inaugural Congress in Hammamet ©WBSC

That mandate will see the new 13-member Board serve an initial seven-year period up to 2021, after which elections will be held every four years.

Along with Fraccari and Low Beng Choo, the new Board consists of current IBAF treasurer Angeolo Vicini of San Marino who will occupy the same role in the WBSC, while American Paul Seiler, chief executive of USA Baseball, and Ron Finlay, a member of the Executive Board of Baseball Australia, were elected members-at-large for baseball.

Members-at-large for softball will be Puerto Rican Softball Federation President Tommy Velazquez and former Japanese softball coach Taeko Utsugi, who guided Japan to silver at Sydney 2000 and bronze at Athens 2004.

In addition, the vice-president of baseball and softball positions, which are intended to be advisory roles, have been given to International Olympic Committee (IOC) members Melitón Sánchez of Panama and Cuban Reynaldo Gonzalez.

Canadian Dale McMann, who replaced Porter as ISF President in October last year, has been appointed as executive-vice president for softball while current Pan American Baseball Confederation (COPABE) President Israel Roldan of Puerto Rico is the executive vice-president for baseball.

Current Venezuelan national team player Maria Soto has been appointed as the softball athlete representative while a baseball athlete representative will be appointed by the end of the year.

Delegates at the inaugural WBSC Congress vote for a new era for baseball and softball ©WBSCDelegates at the inaugural WBSC Congress vote for a new era for baseball and softball ©WBSC

While acknowledging that there may still be a few bumps along the way, Low Beng Choo is confident the leadership of the new WBSC "family" will provide the guidance and direction to ensure both sports prosper in the future.

"It was trying to work around how we could put two huge organisations together," she said. "Softball has its own rules and establishments and likewise baseball has too. We are moving forward and we are united but at the same time we respect each other's autonomy and the way they organise it.

"The differences would be the way people work and the way people organise and now the ISF needs to understand how the IBAF does things and the IBAF needs to understand how the ISF does things.

"Both [organisations] now need to put their trust in the new Board that was elected and begin moving forward. And at the same time the challenge will be for each sport to appreciate that look, 'you still have your sport and you still organise your sport'.

"Under the new WBSC Constitution there is now a softball division and a baseball division so there is a shift in that sense. There are now divisions of a bigger body and that is a change that we need but I know it will take time.

"People do understand that this is the new way but sometimes knowing it and living it can be different. I think that the consensus at the Congress is that we need to take the next step. That sends a very strong message about the unity of both sports now.

"It is not a question of baseball and softball any more, it's about the WBSC moving forward in a united fashion and that has come across very much at this Congress in terms of the elections and in the general discussions.

"We wanted to hear their thoughts and have full-member participation and we wanted to make sure that we could say, 'look, this is what you asked us to do' and then we presented the proposal to them and asked, 'do you now want us to do what you have proposed?'

"There was a very good consensus in that room to say that we need to do this and it's best for both our sports. We have our differences and we have our challenges but that is to be expected.

"Baseball and softball have been around for decades and decades and we need to move to the next level and I think that is what we achieved at the first Congress."

The key building block on which the "next level" of the relationship between baseball and softball is built is unity and that has been the overriding message being pushed here. Understandably and perhaps out of necessity, officials and organisers of the Congress have been keen to stress that mutual respect and understanding are the basis for the future of the sports.

All aboard the new WBSC train as baseball and softball sets off on a new journey ©WBSCAll aboard the new WBSC train as baseball and softball sets off on a new journey ©WBSC

No one is more important than the other. Of course, this mutual respect is much easier to afford when the amalgamation is in its embryonic stage and the balloon of optimism is floating high in the Tunisian sky. But, it is hard to escape a genuine feeling of something big being born and whether it was the salty sea air or the occasional cocktail being sipped and shared, the pervading mood at this weekend's Congress was that a global road-trip has begun and so far, at least, everyone from Ghana to Guyana and Australia to America is on board.

A snapshot of this togetherness came on the first morning of the Congress when a local tourist bus pulled up outside the El Mehari Hotel reception to bring delegates to the Hotel Diar Lamedina where the main Sessions were held. Delegates from baseball and softball piled on and in amongst the faces was Fraccari, all smiles and handshakes. Having already known that he was on his way to be appointed as the WBSC's first President, it was hard not to think that the short ride up the road also represented the new blueprint for the organisation as the Italian set off surrounded by his new flock.

Fraccari rammed home that message when he spoke to Congress later as his confirmation as President was delivered. "To unite and integrate is to strengthen" he said.

"You have shown that it is possible and it is necessary to move forward together, in mutual respect, in the best interest of our sports and to obtain our future goals.

"For this very reason, a new book, for us to write, opens today. We must remember that this union does not erase our past, or take away from the individualities of our sports, but rather it combines our potential to reach our common goals with greater efficiency and greater possibilities."

Indeed, as Fraccari was delivering his rallying cry, sat across from him to his left was the man who helped to forge that past more than most - Porter. The American, who Fraccari described to insidethegames as "Mr Softball", was sitting at the top table of a WBSC Congress for the first and last time as he handed complete control of the organisation over to his one-time co-President.

As one delegate enthused: "Don is the godfather of our sport [softball] and he has done more than anyone in the history of our movement to get us to this point."

American Don Porter has decided to take a back seat in the WBSC after 46 years serving softball ©Getty Images American Don Porter has decided to take a back seat in the WBSC after 46 years serving softball ©Getty Images

On the giant screen at the front of the Congress room, a video of the emotional speech given by Porter at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires was played out in which he described how he had received letters from youngsters across the world imploring him to help get softball back on to the Olympic programme.

While that goal remains a tantalising possibility, Porter was as ever on message when addressing delegates, echoing the words of Fraccari and hailing the new unified movement.

It was perhaps in the interests of ensuring a smooth beginning to the WBSC that the 83-year-old Floridian decided not to go up against Fraccari in the leadership election. No doubt, behind-the-scenes discussions took place in the build-up to the Congress about the vote for President and it is hard not to imagine that Porter's decision to stand down was viewed by some as one less thing that could potentially cause friction at the first global gathering of the unified body.

For Porter himself, who has served with ISF for 46 years - 26 as President and 20 as secretary general - he told insidethegames that "now is the time to step back" because "it is the best thing to do" before adding: "Riccardo is the man now, he has got the ability and the experience and the know-how to push us ahead."

The baseball and softball story has now opened a new chapter.

Gary Anderson is a reporter for insidethegames. You can follow him on Twitter here.