Riccardo Fraccari of Italy has been named the first president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the umbrella body established last year as a result of an historic merger between the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the International Softball Federation (ISF).
Top-level decision makers from the two sports converged on the Tunisian tourist town of Hammamet on Saturday for the inaugural World Baseball Softball Congress, with delegates from over 200 national associations gathering in what was also the first international baseball or softball meeting to be held on the African continent.
In his speech to the congress, 65-year-old Fraccari said: “Today is a day that will remain in the history of baseball and softball. Today, we finalise a process that started long ago, and begin a new one that is more challenging and complex, but I am convinced it will help the development and the spread of our sports, making them truly global.”
Fraccari’s instalment comes after Don Porter, the former president of the ISF who has been acting as an interim co-president of the WBSC alongside Fraccari since the merger in April 2013, opted not to run for election at the last minute. 83-year-old Porter, who stood down from his softball role last October, felt Fraccari would be the best man, “age-wise and health-wise”, to take both sports forward, leaving his counterpart to stand unopposed.
A former baseball umpire, Fraccari was voted in as the president of the IBAF, world baseball’s governing body, in December 2009. He has served three terms as president of the Italian Baseball and Softball Federation (FIBS) and is a current member of the Italian National Olympic Committee Council.
In addition to ratifying Fraccari as president, members of the WSBC congress elected eight others who will comprise the body’s first permanent executive board. The vote saw Malaysia's Beng Choo Low elected unopposed to the role of secretary general; San Marino's Angeolo Vicini defeat Belgium's René Laforce to become treasurer; USA's Paul Seiler and Australia's Ron Finlay named members at-large for baseball; Puerto Rico's Tommy Velazquez and Japan's Taeko Utsugi named members at-large for softball; IOC members Reynaldo Gonzalez of Cuba and Meliton Sanchez of Panama appointed as vice presidents for baseball and softball respectively; and Israel Roldan of Puerto Rico and current ISF president Dale McMann of Canada installed as executive vice presidents for baseball and softball respectively.
Meanwhile, Venezualan softball star Maria Soto will serve as an athlete representative alongside a current baseball player who will be elected later this year, taking the WSBC executive board to a total of 13 members.
All executive board members will now begin seven-year terms, after members of the WBSC congress agreed to amend the body's constitution which designated terms of four years. From 2021, however, the terms will revert to four years, with nominations taking place in the year following an Olympic Games.
The creation of the unified WBSC followed the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to exclude baseball and softball from the Olympic programme at its session in Singapore in 2005. Now recognised by the IOC as the sole authority for both sports, the Lausanne-based body’s key objective is to achieve reinstatement to the Games having last featured at Beijing 2008.
At its session in Buenos Aires in September, the IOC voted against reinstating baseball and softball in favour of wrestling, which was handed a reprieve after itself being cut just months earlier. Wrestling received 49 votes to secure the majority it required for an immediate victory, while a hybrid effort from baseball and softball received 24 votes and squash, the only other sport in the running, got 22.
Baseball and softball won marks for uniting to form a single governing body for what was their third bid to re-enter the Games, but lingering question marks over baseball’s refusal to adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code and the availability of professional players remained throughout their campaign.
New IOC president Thomas Bach has, however, vowed to review the process by which sports are selected in future, with IOC member John Coates, a well-known supporter of baseball and softball, telling Reuters last month that the possibility of the two sports being brought back for the Tokyo 2020 Games was still “on the table”.
The IOC is expected to make a final decision at its extraordinary session in Monaco in December.
“If initially the main objective was to return baseball and softball to the Olympic Games, we see now that the unification of baseball and softball also brings new opportunities in relation to the development of our two sports,” said Fraccari.
“An old proverb says, ‘unity makes strength’, and this is certainly true in this case: to unite and integrate is to strengthen.
“More than ever before, we have to demonstrate the full integration of our baseball/softball family to confirm that we are not only fully committed but that we are prepared to accept the great responsibility of being on the Olympic programme.
“This is the reason why this congress, which paves the way for a new direction and new opportunities, is so important.
“We must continue our battle with greater strength, greater momentum, greater commitment and greater unity. Our continuing battle, which for other reasons, was not won in Buenos Aires - but on that occasion we demonstrated the strength and potential of baseball and softball to the international sport community and to IOC.
“In Buenos Aires we gave a demonstration of solidarity, with a new and streamlined look and with a real sense of teamwork and cooperation – which lets us say today that the game is not over, and that there is a real chance to win this game.”