The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the International Softball Federation (ISF) have recently merged to form a new International Federation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
The WBSC will take the lead in working to return men’s baseball and women’s softball to the Olympic programme for the 2020 Games, and the organisation has set out its philosophy and vision for the future development of the two sports.
The WBSC statement says: “Our new approach reflects a creative and determined vision to add value to the Olympic Games and to our respective disciplines. Since being removed from the Olympic programme, we have listened and learned from our friends in the Olympic Movement, and we are now presenting a new and unified vision for our respective disciplines.
“The WBSC offers the Olympic Movement the best of both worlds, which we call 'Two Disciplines with One Dream'.
“For sheer size and scope at every competitive level, no two disciplines blanket the world as do men’s baseball and women’s softball. We’ve got it covered in every respect: gender equity, participation levels, organisational structure, fan appreciation and commercial appeal.
“The merging of two global, highly-developed sports disciplines with millions of participants and fans, one focused on men’s play and one focused on women’s play, offers the Olympic Movement a unique opportunity, and our new International Federation offers a historic chance and renewed Olympic hope for literally millions of young athletes around the world.
“Men’s baseball is of course not only one of the world’s most popular sports, but also one of its most commercially successful. Baseball’s popularity is truly astounding: 35 million participants in organised competitions worldwide, 3,500,000 children in baseball programmes outside North America, and over 200 countries carried television coverage of the recent World Baseball Classic. There are 77 countries with organised leagues, and baseball’s strong international professional component has a powerful commercial appeal.
“Women’s softball offers young female athletes a sports path from grass roots to elite level play. There are over 30 million softball participants worldwide, and the majority of them are girls or women. The number of softball National Federations has grown from 113 in 2005 to 125 today.”
Crucially for the restoration of baseball and softball to the Olympic Games as two disciplines of the same sport, the WBSC believes that it can guarantee that the top athletes from each discipline – including players from Major League Baseball clubs – will participate in future Olympics.
In addition, the WBSC believes that a range of technical innovations will make the sports more attractive to Games hosts and organisers. The WBSC statement says:
“Our new tournament format will deliver value to the Olympic Movement by reducing costs and organisational requirements and utilising a single venue for both disciplines that includes all required competition, training and warm-up facilities in a single location.
“The Olympic competition format will consist of two six-day tournaments (sequential, not concurrent), with eight teams each for baseball and softball, playing at a combined venue consisting of two fields for competition and one for training."
When final arguments are made to the International Olympic Committee Executive in May by the eight sports seeking one Olympic place for 2020, the WBSC will point to considerable development achievements by our two sports.
Over the past four years, baseball has:
During the same period, softball has:
Current activities and initiatives by the WBSC include:
The WBSC statement concludes by saying that “We are proud to say that we are fulfilling our obligations and putting the best interests of the athletes, our sports, and the Olympic Movement at the forefront of our efforts.”
At its meeting in May, the IOC Executive is expected to recommend two or three candidate sports for 2020 to go forward for a final vote by the full IOC Assembly in the autumn.
The full list of sports vying for Olympic inclusion in 2020 includes: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboard, wushu and wrestling, which was recently dropped for 2020 by the IOC but will be allowed to re-apply.