Baseball, softball join forces in hopes of returning to Olympics

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The international federations that govern baseball and softball stood united Sunday afternoon with one goal in mind: getting their sports back on the Olympic program.

Spurred on by a common goal, the two bodies merged to form the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) at the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) congress, with WBSC co-presidents Riccardo Fraccari, the IBAF president, and International Softball Federation president Don Porter signing the new body’s constitution at a news conference during the IBAF congress at a Tokyo Hotel.

“We are on a great journey to return our beloved sport to the Olympic stage,” Fraccari said. “We have been listening and learning from our friends in the Olympic family to understand how to succeed in that journey.”

Baseball and softball were voted off the Olympic program in 2005, with the final tournaments being held during 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, where South Korea won baseball gold and Japan reigned in softball.

At the time it was thought the lack of MLB players played a role in baseball’s being cut. Fraccari was adamant that there would be professional players on the diamond should baseball return to the Olympics, but deflected questions about the participation of MLB stars.

“For sure MLB is important, but now the scenario is completely different than in the past, Fraccari said. “Because when we’re talking about professional players, we’re talking about all the professional players. If we have eight teams in the Olympics, we need to have strong teams that are not coming from USA. So when you say professional, I insist we think of, sure MLB, but you have to think of NPB, (Korea’s) KBO, (Taiwan’s) CPBL, etc. They give professionals to (help) build strong teams. So MLB is important for sure, and the discussion, it’s going on, but we need to think that baseball is growing worldwide, and we need the other professional organizations in for strong teams.”

Softball players are also hopeful of a return to the Olympics. Popular opinion in 2005 was that the sport was cut due to the way the U.S. dominated the competition and the lack of a widespread global presence. Ironically, it was star pitcher Yukiko Ueno and Japan, itself a softball power, not the Americans, who won gold in 2008.

“I was really shocked. We won the gold in Beijing and then we had our sport taken away from us,” Ueno said Sunday. “Many children started playing softball because of what we did. The news (of the sport being dropped) was so disappointing, because there was nowhere for them to go. A goal had been lost.”

The WBSC has been working feverishly to find a way to convince the International Olympic Committee to put the sports back into the program in 2020.

The body is ready present a plan to play two six-day tournaments featuring eight teams in a single venue, with a day in between the competitions to convert the field from baseball to softball. The WBSC has even looked into shortening baseball games to seven innings to make the event more television-friendly.

“We’re offering the Olympic movement, a team sport which would create a new category as the only bat and ball sport on the Olympic program,” Porter said.

The WBSC is scheduled to make a presentation to the International Olympic Committee in May.