Riccardo Fraccari

This past year has been shaped by a number of momentous events for the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and the international baseball and softball family. Most notably the first-ever Baseball5 World Cup, the debut of our Virtual Cup and the inaugural Blind Baseball International Cup all took place in 2022.

Baseball5 was only officially launched in 2017 and it has grown at an extraordinary rate since then, exploding in popularity globally and allowing more and more young people to engage with our sport, due to its accessibility. We have seen particularly strong growth of the discipline in Africa, headlined by the participation of three teams from the continent - Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia - competing in a WBSC World Cup event for the first time in history. I fall in love with this modern and dynamic discipline every time I witness the joy it brings to those playing it. 

Not only are we doing exciting things with Baseball5 but the WBSC is also making some great achievements when it comes to the emerging union of traditional sports and esports after the launch of the first WBSC Virtual Cup. Open to the public, this event garnered huge interest and a record-breaking 8,146 participants, before the finals were held in Seoul last month where the inaugural WBSC Virtual Cup champion was crowned.

The WBSC's commitment to innovation also saw us become the first International Federation (IF) to deliver digital trophies in NFT format to our athletes this year through our partnership with LEVERADE. We embrace the future and we embrace young, digital technologies.  

Kim Hwan-hee and Kim Chung-yong won the first WBSC Virtual Cup earlier this year ©WBSC
Kim Hwan-hee and Kim Chung-yong won the first WBSC Virtual Cup earlier this year ©WBSC

This is also showcased by our continuous efforts to engage with youth on social media. We have seen tremendous growth on TikTok and Instagram in particular, bringing high-quality and engaging content to these platforms. We also signed a historic partnership with TikTok to bring exclusive content from 10 content creators to our TikTok channel for the Baseball5 World Cup.

In 2022, we also reinvigorated our efforts to promote the inclusivity and accessibility of baseball-softball with the first-ever WBSC-sanctioned Blind Baseball International Cup in The Netherlands. This ground-breaking event was celebrated with the first braille WBSC trophy ever created. We also signed earlier this month a Memorandum of Understanding with VIRTUS, the IF for athletes with an intellectual impairment to work together to promote baseball-softball for athletes with an intellectual impairment. With these innovations, I am forever filled with an overwhelming sense of pride that our sport continues to touch the lives of more people than ever before.

Meanwhile, our efforts in good governance are being increasingly recognised, as seen in the results of this year's Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) Governance Review, where the WBSC was the highest-ranked IF among ASOIF associate members and scored above average for an IF of its size and resources. Overall, the WBSC's score increase of 46 was the second-largest across participating IFs where the average gain was 14 points.

We have also furthered these efforts in 2022, with the introduction of a new, enhanced election process for eight new WBSC athlete representatives - two each from women's baseball, men's baseball, women's softball and men's softball. In November, we welcomed these new representatives and the strengthening of the athlete voice within the WBSC.

Our efforts to secure baseball-softball's place as a permanent fixture on the Olympic programme also remain a top priority. We saw how the world was wowed by incredible baseball and softball action at Tokyo 2020. In fact, the gold-medal match between the United States and Japan was the most viewed sporting event of the Olympic Games in Japan, with record figures tuning in. This more than reinforces the popularity of our sport, and we know that baseball and softball would be a home run for LA28.  

In a year where the international baseball and softball season is back in full swing after the pandemic, we also had an opportunity to come together in-person for the WBSC Congress in Taipei City. There, I had the honour of being re-elected as President of the WBSC for the 2022-2029 term. This new Presidency will allow me to continue the WBSC's mission of innovation and growth and focus on our 2022-28 Strategic Plan, which will ensure that the global baseball-softball community is aligned to grow together, and take strength from each other’s experience and development to help secure our sport's future, and allow it to maximise its potential on the international stage.

Riccardo Fraccari was re-elected as WBSC President in 2022  ©Getty Images
Riccardo Fraccari was re-elected as WBSC President in 2022 ©Getty Images

We have much to look forward to next year, including an exciting two-stage competition format for the Women’s Softball World Cup, which offers the chance for more teams to participate and more countries to host. The International Olympic Committee Executive Board's confirmation of dates for the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026 means that Baseball5's aspiring stars can now circle October 31 to November 13 2026 in their calendars in the hope that they will represent their country at the sport's Youth Olympic debut. But first, there is the inaugural Baseball5 Youth World Cup to look forward to in 2023.

I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to help lead our sport to new, and even greater heights, and look forward to what further successes 2023 will bring.