Riccardo Fraccari

May 31 2021 will mark the historic moment when the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) returns to the field after a long pause in our competition calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. 

It will also be a momentous occasion for the eight national baseball teams taking part in the WBSC Baseball America Qualifier in Florida, as they compete for one of two remaining places for baseball’s long-awaited and highly anticipated return to the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020.

As has been the case for many others in the world of sport, the pandemic has had a major impact on the WBSC’s events and global operations. Our members and athletes have been starved of opportunities to participate in the sport we all love.

Nevertheless, we at the WBSC used the increased time away from the field of play to focus our efforts on making structural changes to our organisation that would allow us to continue enjoying the tremendous growth we have experienced since the baseball and softball International Federation merger in 2013.

The inauguration of our global headquarters in Pully, Switzerland, the establishment of the WBSC Integrity Unit, the launch of the WBSC Academy, the restructuring of our global events calendar and the approval of baseball5 and eSport as official disciplines were all important milestones that will fuel the continued development of our sport and movement. 

Not to mention, the honour of being selected - with our partner KONAMI - by the IOC, along with four other major international sports federations, to take part in the first-ever Olympic Virtual Series, shows the hard work is paying off and that the WBSC - and baseball and softball - continues to raise their profile amongst the international sports community, a highly competitive area.

These achievements allow us to return to competition next week as a more robust and modern International Federation that is better prepared to deal with the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. An International Federation that is more adept to navigating a post-COVID environment and one which is better equipped to make sustained, tangible contributions to growing our global sport, serving our members, while simultaneously helping to grow the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement.

We have every confidence in the added value our global sport - with youth appeal, #playeverywhere and full gender equality attributes across baseball, softball and baseball5 - and its passionate fans will bring to the Olympic Games, especially at Tokyo 2020 where we are set to play a pivotal role due to the huge popularity of our sport in Japan.

World Baseball Softball Confederation competition is set to return to the field after a long pause due to the coronavirus pandemic with an Americas qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
World Baseball Softball Confederation competition is set to return to the field after a long pause due to the coronavirus pandemic with an Americas qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

Furthermore, softball has been awarded the privilege of opening the Games, with women's softball scheduled to start on 21 July 2021 in Fukushima, two days prior to the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony. The WBSC is proud and honoured to be both playing its role in the recovery of Fukushima and the start of the Olympic Games.

I want to express the WBSC’s deepest gratitude to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese authorities for safeguarding the Olympic Flag through one of its most tumultuous periods. Thanks to their dedication and commitment to Olympism, baseball-softball athletes will have the unique and unmatched experience of representing their countries on sport’s biggest stage.

As I have mentioned before, securing our permanent place on the Olympic programme remains a primary objective for the WBSC. With baseball5 in the Youth Olympic Games, and the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games on the horizon, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about baseball and softball’s Olympic future.

Baseball and softball at the LA2028 Games would mark a historic return for our sport there, where a successful demonstration at LA 1984 paved the way for the IOC to approve baseball as an official medal sport at Barcelona 1992 and softball at Atlanta 1996. The US is the birthplace of baseball-softball and home to the biggest global stars and brands. 

Our sport will help connect millions of fans across America and around the world to the Games whilst providing LA28 and the IOC with a multitude of commercial opportunities, especially through ticketing, broadcasting and merchandising. A gold-medal match at Dodger Stadium would surely be one of the most memorable and iconic moments of the LA28 Games.

That is why the WBSC, and all our partners across the US are already working together to reimagine the ultimate Olympic baseball-softball experience. An experience that captures all of the passion and greatness that the global baseball-softball industry has to offer whilst ensuring that Olympic baseball-softball is aligned to the IOC and LA28’s vision for the Games.

Having endured one of the more testing periods in our recent history, the WBSC has emerged with a renewed sense of hope and optimism about our future. I very much welcome the opportunity to meet face-to-face with our athletes again and look forward to watching them live in action on the diamond.

Looking to Tokyo 2020 and beyond, the WBSC is ready to put its best foot forward and demonstrate to our colleagues and friends across the Olympic Movement and wider sports industry all that international baseball-softball has to offer.