(ATR) World Baseball Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fraccari says changes are coming that will make the bat and ball sports more appealing to fans and competition hosts.
Riccardo Fraccari (ATR)
He says seven inning games will become the rule post Tokyo 2020, while the upcoming Premier 12 tournament in men's baseball will be the first under a pitch clock.
Fraccari says he's pleased with the appetite for baseball and softball demonstrated by spectators at last month's Pan American Games in Lima.
He comments on a wide range of issues for the sport in this On the Record for Around the Rings.
Around the Rings:
The Pan Ams recently ended. Softball and baseball were popular among Peruvians at Lima 2019. What is the WBSC doing to grow the sport in Peru?
: We are not surprised by the recent success of disciplines in Lima 2019. Baseball Softball is one of the biggest sports globally and has a strong history and cultural significance in the Americas. 50 percent of the top 10 nations in our global rankings across the four Baseball Softball disciplines are from the Americas.
Our members in Peru have always been very active and their recent silver medal at the WBSC U-12 Mixed Softball World Cup in Taiwan just last month is evidence of the good talent that they have in the country and of the grassroot work that has been brought forward.
Peruvian Baseball Softball now has a world-class facility from which to grow from and we will continue to provide the support necessary to build on the momentum and huge popularity boost from the Pan Am Games.
Fraccari at 2018 Women's Baseball World Championships (ATR)
Peru is a football country. Any concerns the facilities in Lima will become white elephants?
Peruvian fans are famous for their passion of football, but as we saw during the Pan Ams they can be equally as passionate about Baseball Softball.
The facilities built for the Games are world-class, but they are also sustainable. The venues will become the new home for the Peruvian baseball and softball federations and we are working closely with them to ensure that the new facilities are used for future regional, continental and global WBSC events. In the coming days the new facilities will host the U-15 Pan American Softball Championship.
: The new game-clock regulations seemed to work well in Lima. Games were shorter; participants seemed to be happy with everything. The full rollout -- including video replay -- is set for November. What effect do you think these will have on the competition in Tokyo 2020? Do you think it will help your quest to return to the Olympic program?
In recent years, the WBSC has rolled out several measures to modernize the game and make it more fan-friendly and cost efficient for organizers. The Premier12 in November will showcase the new game-clock regulations and we are all very excited about that.
We are also looking forward to our spectacular Olympic comeback at Tokyo 2020 in just under one years’ time where we expect sold out crowds and an electric atmosphere. Our main focus for now is to deliver an outstanding event and be the best possible partner for the IOC and Olympic Movement.
There are concerns that softball might not be included in the 2023 Pan Ams. What are you doing to ensure the sport remains on the program?
: I won’t speculate on rumors but what I can say is that our sport has a huge cultural significance in the region. 50 percent of the top 10 nations in our global rankings across the four Baseball Softball disciplines are from the Americas and the current reigning champions in men’s and women’s softball are from the Americas.
Add to this the many innovations being introduced to Baseball Softball, such as game clocks and seven inning games, I am confident our sport will be more attractive than ever.
What is the status of your new Athletes Commission? Will you have announcements or final plans at the Congress? And how will this affect Tokyo preparations?
The Athletes Commission has been operating for over a year now and its members, which currently number seven of which four are female, will be complete after the election of the Baseball male representative during the Premier12 in November.
Two members of the Athletes Commission are also Executive members of the WBSC Board with four more on the Baseball and Softball Division Boards (two each). Having the Athletes representatives directly in the Executive Board with full voting rights has proven to be very successful with the athletes at the heart of many of the WBSC’s key decisions.
The Athletes Commission led the process of creating the WBSC Harassment & Abuse By-Laws whilst also implementing other tools to protect athletes. Members of the Athletes Commission are usually present at WBSC events where they meet with athletes to make sure they are aware of their rights and the protection provided by the WBSC - if needed at any stage. They also collect athlete input on a variety of topics, including how to make the game even more athlete friendly and medical issues etc.
What are some of the decisions you will take at the Congress?
A major topic will be good governance with several improvement measures to be brought to the table for discussion while we are also planning to present several new projects and resources that will be available to our members starting from 2020. Preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will also be on the agenda while members will receive an update on the WBSC’s latest exciting property Baseball5, which will stage its first World Cups – Mixed Seniors and Mixed U15 – next year and is proving very popular with our members due to its accessibility, ease of play and youth appeal.
WBSC’s new OTT platform – Game Time – will also be presented to the members along with the new WBSC Scoring System, which has been a major project for WBSC over the past two years and we are looking forward to rolling out for all national federations to use in the very near future.
Baseball will be held in Fukushima, site of the earthquake and nuclear disaster. You recently launched an effort to collect baseball and softball equipment for nations that are still growing the sport. How long will this effort continue? Up to the Games? Or beyond?
: Our efforts in the region began in 2016 when we held our U-15 Baseball World Cup in Iwaki. On that occasion we donated a playground as a legacy to the community. That kickstarted a mutual relationship and now the schools in the region are giving back by collecting equipment that we have shipped in part to Africa, eastern Europe and the Middle east. This is a project we would like to continue, not only in time but also with other countries and regions around the world.
: We've heard that baseball games will be limited to seven innings instead of nine post-Tokyo. Is this correct? What are the benefits, other than shorter games? Or are shorter games the goal?
The Executive Board decided to play seven innings in all WBSC age group competitions, starting from 2020, because there are many advantages including shorter games, which will impact the health and performances of the athletes during the World Cups, which are normally very condensed events. Shorter games will also help reduce some of the costs required to stage an event, making them more appealing for potential hosts. Once a full cycle is complete, we will evaluate the results and make any necessary adjustments.
Softball also makes
a return to the Games next year. The potential matchup between the US and Japan promises to be a thriller. Would you care to make any predictions about how the tournament will go? And what effect it will have on softball's popularity as an Olympic sport?
: Softball enjoys a true and passionate fan base in many countries. The global softball community is very strong and different from that of baseball. Each person that is involved in softball is an ambassador of the sport in some way. It is true that Japan and USA have historically dominated the women’s tournaments and last year’s final in the world championship was possibly the best game of our whole season, but I wouldn’t rule out some of the other teams. We’re expecting a very exciting and competitive event, which will be very popular with the fans.
There seems to be a perception that despite WBSC as the highest authority, softball frequently acts independently. Baseball headquarters is in Lausanne; softball is in Miami. Is this perception correct? What do you say to that?
The merger of two former Olympic International Federations (IBAF–ISF) into the WBSC is not a process that happens quickly because there are existing contracts that must be honored. Commitments towards the former ISF office in Plant City (Florida) are an example. But despite that, we are very pleased with how the two bodies have come together and become part of a thriving WBSC family. I’m particularly pleased with how activities at the international level are now fully integrated, although there is still work to be done, especially at the national level where we have many countries with two governing bodies.
Baseball at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima. Puerto Rico won the gold medal. (Lima 2019)
The unexpected news of the baseball tournament of the Pan American Games in Lima was the early elimination of Cuba, 12 times Pan American champion, and with three losses and a single victory ended in sixth place. What impression do you have of this Cuban failure in a tournament that not few considered devalued by the absence of the United States, Venezuela and Mexico?
Puerto Rico won their historic first-ever gold medal in baseball in Lima, so this is an exciting result. Cuba produces some of the most talented baseball players in the world, but the men’s national team faces some unique challenges as reflected in recent international competitions. Also, with more and more national federations now professionalizing their national teams and the growing strength of international baseball, not only in the Americas but around the world, it’s going to be difficult for anybody to dominate like Cuba has in the past.
A purely soccer nation, Argentina, won the Pan American softball title days after becoming world champion. What is your opinion about this performance?
Argentina has always been a powerhouse in men’s softball, so we are not surprised by this result. They have a great tradition and I know how long and hard the federation has worked to achieve this moment. Football is the number one sport in the vast majority of countries, not only in South America but globally. The very fact that it is taken as a term of reference shows the potential that our sport has.
: USA Baseball has recently announced Joe Girardi as manager of the USA team for Premier 12. Do you think the USA team will be integrated, as in 2008, by a mixture of prospects and veterans not included in the “list of 40”? Or do you think that Major League clubs could authorize players from their "list of 40" to seek, first, the Olympic ranking?
This is the first time the WBSC Premier12 is open to all players, but in the end, whether a player gets approval to participate depends on the leagues and individual clubs. Players from all leagues have expressed interest to play in the Premier12, and this response from the players themselves is a strong indication about the growing appeal of international baseball.
The increase of prize money to $5.2 million for the Premier 12 is also a reflection of how much WBSC values the role of the players, teams - and their leagues and national federations - in making the event such a success.
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