(ATR) With dreams of a return to the Olympics, baseball and softball join forces at a first-ever congress of the two sports.
Meeting in the resort town of Hammamet, Tunisia delegates from 140 national federations elected a new president who is focused on bringing the two sports back to the Olympic Games.
Both were cut from the Olympic program by the IOC in 2005 and have failed in three tries since then to rejoin the program, most recently in 2013. But with Tokyo signaling its desire to include baseball and softball in the 2020 Games and a seeming willingness on the part of new IOC president Thomas Bach to consider it, hopes are high among leaders of the sports that they have a chance.
New WBSC President Ricardo Fraccari. (ATR)
“We have a new book to write” Ricardo Fraccari told delegates in a speech shortly before being elected as the first president of the new federation.
“The return to the Olympic Games -- what we have been fighting for--for nearly ten years now -- will help accelerate our growth and overcome many challenges, including those of a financial nature that we face and that today slow the growth of baseball and softball in some countries,” he said. Dropping baseball and softball from the Olympics has meant the end of funding from the government for those sports in a number of countries.
For the past year, Fraccari, as president of IBAF, the former international federation for baseball, has served as co-president of the WBSC along with Don Porter, former president of the International Softball Federation.
In his talk to the congress, Porter, 83, formally announced his withdrawal as a contender for the new WBSC presidency.
Embraces for Don Porter (ATR)
“It’s time to move forward with energy, enthusiasm and passion,” he said about the potential Fraccari will bring to the federation as it seeks a place on the Olympic program. Fraccari, 60, is president of the Italian baseball and softball federation.
IOC president Thomas Bach sent a letter to the congress that congratulated baseball and softball for joining forces, a move he said “reflects the efforts and changes of recent years.”
“We are very pleased to see the growth of baseball and softball,” said Bach, who
also complemented the federation on including athletes in the management of the organization.
“It is really excellent for the Olympic Movement to see direct athlete representation on the Executive Board and the voice of athletes being at the heart of the WBSC,” said the IOC president.
“The work of the WBSC will be more than ever for the benefit of baseball and softball athletes around the world,” he said.
In his letter Bach did not make any direct references to the campaign to return the two sports to the Games but neither did he tell them not to bother. In fact, Bach mentioned that he is looking forward to meeting soon with the new leadership of the federation.
members from baseball loving nations Cuba and Panama attended the Congress. Reynaldo Gonzalez of Cuba delivered a passionate call for unity and solidarity in the campaign for the Olympics.
Cuban IOC member Reynaldo Gonzalez (ATR)
“We must convince the IOC of the rights of our athletes to compete in the Olympic Games. If we work intensively and together we can make this happen,” said Gonzales.
“Success depends on all of us for this, a fight to the end with hundreds of millions of supporters around the world,” he said.
Meliton Sanchez of Panama, who ends his tenure as an IOC member this year with his retirement at age 80, noted that with many new members of the IOC to take his place and those of others moving on from the IOC, baseball and softball need to press on with their campaign.
Leaders of professional baseball in the United States, Japan, China delivered videotaped remarks, each encouraging the Federation to pursue a spot on the Olympic program as good for growth of the sports.
Development is the big reason Tunisia was selected as the first African host of a Congress for baseball or softball. Currently there are 16 nations on the continent with national federations.
Written and reported in Hammamet, Tunisia by Ed Hula.
For general comments or questions, click here.
20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.