The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the International Softball Federation (ISF) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlining a procedure for establishing a new international federation (IF) to govern both baseball and softball, as required by the International Olympic Committee if the two sports are to be considered for a return to the Olympic programme in future.
As part of the MoU, a Joint Committee will be formed, consisting of eight people (the ISF President and three members appointed by the ISF, and the IBAF President plus three members appointed by the IBAF), who will oversee all facets of the merger process.
ISF President Don Porter said: “The MoU gives us the basis to move forward in our Olympic campaign, and gives us added confidence that our plans to merge our two Federations will receive the needed support from our National Federations.
A Special Congress of the International Softball Federation will be held on October 30 at the Park Inn Houston North Hotel in Houston, Texas, to discuss and decide on whether the ISF will ratify the merger, creating an organisation that would be recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the international governing body for both sports.
Administrative Officer Vicky Hall will attend the Special Congress as the representative of the British Softball Federation, and the BSF will decide on its position during a weekend meeting of the Executive on 20-21 October.
ISF President Don Porter (left) and IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari
The ISF Constitution requires that Special Congresses be held with representatives physically present, and with many national softball federations short of money, the question was always going to be whether the ISF could get a quorum for its Special Congress. But based on the number of Federations planning to attend, that goal seems to have been narrowly achieved.
The process leading up to the Special Congress began during the ISF's last Ordinary Congress in October 2011, when a majority of countries present voted to explore the possibility of a joint bid with the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) for the reinstatement of baseball and softball to the Olympic programme in 2020 as male and female versions of the same sport.
This came in the wake of failure by both sports to gain reinstatement for the 2016 Olympics by applying separately. IBAF members had already approved a joint approach at their own Congress in the spring of 2011.
The proposal was then taken to the International Olympic Committee, who agreed to accept a joint bid for Olympic reinstatement on condition that the ISF and IBAF merge to form one International Federation for both sports. This new International Federation would replace the ISF and IBAF on the list of IOC-recognised International Federations -- though within each sport, the ISF and IBAF would probably continue to function much as they do now, and there will be no requirement for national federations to merge that have not already done so.
The IBAF will make a final decision on the merger proposal by postal or email ballot this autumn.
“This is an exciting milestone for baseball and softball and an extremely important step towards our collective efforts to reinstate our sports in the Olympic Programme in 2020,” said IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari. Fraccari has proposed shorter baseball and softball tournaments for the Olympics, with the sports sharing the same venues.
If the merger proposal receives formal assent from both IBAF and ISF members, the next priority for ISF and IBAF leaders will be to establish a campaign platform and prepare their presentation to the IOC’s Olympic Programme Commission in December.
Another IOC requirement for considering the reinstatement of baseball and softball to the Olympic programme for 2020 may be a guarantee that top players from Major League Baseball in the United States will take part in the Games on behalf of their national teams.
Negotiations involving the ISF, IBAF and MLB have begun to see if this can be achieved. One idea put forward is that top MLB players would be available for the final playoff stages in an Olympic baseball tournament.
The IOC will make decisions on the host city and participating sports for the 2020 Olympics in 2013.