Riccardo Fraccari

When in 2013, the global baseball and softball families agreed to merge under one unified, global governing body – the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) – we did so in the long-term interest of our sports. We understood there was strength in unity and, by taking the best of both sports, we could form a stronger and more convincing campaign to get baseball and softball back on the Olympic programme.

With the curtain now drawn on baseball and softball’s return to the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020, I have had the time to reflect on the emotion of not only our spectacular Olympic comeback, but also the past eight years of work and sacrifice that have taken place behind the scenes to lay the solid foundations from which the WBSC is prospering today.

The baseball and softball communities understood that serious changes were needed if we were to safeguard the long-term future of our sport. Having successfully established the WBSC, we immediately got to work on implementing Olympic standards in all areas of our sports' administration. We created a good governance structure that aligned with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations best practices, with an accountable leadership and Board, a Code of Ethics, guaranteed gender representation and an empowered athletes' voice with voting rights.

We put in place clear, transparent ranking and qualification systems, aligning all continental competitions into a consistent global structure, which meant we could identify the best teams in the world at any time. By awarding ranking points across all age categories, we reward the efforts in grassroots and talent development of our national federations and not only access to elite athletes.

Japan followed up softball gold with baseball gold at the Olympics ©Getty Images
Japan followed up softball gold with baseball gold at the Olympics ©Getty Images

We strengthened our anti-doping procedures with robust testing and monitoring to bring us in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency Code and requirements. And more recently, we used the time away from the field of play to establish the WBSC Integrity Unit, WBSC Academy, our eSport Strategy, as well as inaugurating our new global headquarters in Pully, adjacent to the Olympic capital Lausanne in Switzerland.

In other words, we built on and strengthened all of our assets, enabling us to govern our sport globally, effectively and efficiently.

In turn, this has allowed us to be strong and reliable partners for the IOC and host cities. At Tokyo 2020, we became partners not just for the Organising Committee, but for the whole country by demonstrating we were sensitive to realities on the ground. 

Our historic opening baseball and softball games in Fukushima allowed us to have a positive impact on local communities and we used our sport to inspire hope and highlight re-generation. We also worked diligently with the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to develop a competition format and plan that delivered costs savings but still guaranteed a spectacular competition and product on the field of play.

As a result, our return to the Olympic stage was as spectacular as we could have hoped for and, with provisional television viewing figures, social media and website numbers, as well as global media coverage, indicating a huge hit with sports fans around the world, we are proud of how our sport, our athletes and our movement made invaluable contributions to the overall success of these unique Olympic Games.

From women's softball opening the Games’ competitions at the Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima on July 21 to Eddy Alverez becoming only the sixth Olympian to win medals at both a Winter and Summer Olympic Games, it’s safe to say baseball and softball have left their mark on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The ultra-competitive matches - delivered also thanks to the strong partnerships we developed with all professional leagues - and the excellent fan engagement and feedback from the athletes have proven once again how baseball and softball are a great fit for the Olympics. And this is not to mention the innovations, which the WBSC has introduced such as the pitching clock, two runners on for tiebreakers and television cameras on the bases, all in the aid to improve the audience experience.

I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to our Japanese hosts. Despite the most challenging of circumstances, they were able to set a near-perfect stage for our teams and athletes to reach their full potential. For that reason, the Games featured some of the best and most competitive international baseball and softball in living memory. There’s just nothing quite like representing your country on the greatest stage of all. 

Hosts Japan won softball gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
Hosts Japan won softball gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

The Olympic experience is unique and one which we will continue to fight hard for on behalf of our fans, our teams and their athletes.

Despite not being on the programme for Paris 2024, we have grounds, as always, to be optimistic for our Olympic future. Next up is Los Angeles in 2028, and where baseball and softball are some of America’s favourite sports and pastimes. 

And before then, our newest discipline, Baseball5 will feature in the sports experience zone at the 2020 FAN PARK during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, providing another key example of how the WBSC offers opportunities for people of all ages to stay active, stay healthy and stay connected with sport and the Olympic Movement.

Baseball5 will then make its debut at the Youth Olympic Games in Dakar in 2026, where it will have the honour of being the Games’ first mixed-gender team sport.

The WBSC has brought baseball and softball to the Olympics, and the spot has left its mark.