In an office in Edmonton, Canada, Duane Wysynski, president of the World Dodgeball Federation (WDBF) prepares his presentation for students at Indiana University. The university’s Kelley School of Business is working with the federation on the development of strategic partnerships and marketing approaches.
He knows the potential for the sport and allure it offers to potential partners. A global survey conducted by the Leo Burnett Agency found that 95 per cent of people globally had played some form of dodgeball in their lifetime. But while familiarity is high, the development of dodgeball as an organised, high-profile sport requires additional investment. The World Dodgeball Federation, formed in 2011, established a mandate to advance the sport through cooperative development and high-level international competition. The mandate remains, but the desire to grow increases.
The very first World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, set the tone for a series that would see the event taken to cities such as Hong Kong, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles before a pause in 2020 for what would have been the eighth installment in Glasgow. The Dodgeball World Championships will be back in 2022 with a European host, and an expanded format that will feature two-dozen competing nations.
Since its inception, the WDBF has grown from fewer than ten countries in 2017 to more than 60 today. This growth has been due to a several factors.
“Initially, new nations would come to us because they wanted to be represented at the World Championships. The allure of international competition was, and still is, a strong driver for developing members. But that changed over time,” explains Wysynski (pictured right).
“Current expansion is driven by the accessibility and affordability of the sport, and how easily it can be introduced to youth and schools, especially in areas with significant economic barriers. Socially, dodgeball is one of the few international sports that features mixed competition, in addition to men’s and women’s divisions.”
The sport has also been adapted to include athletes with a disability, with rulesets for wheelchair dodgeball and accommodations for players with other physical and cognitive challenges. While the most common variants are six-on-six played with a foam ball and five-on-five played with a fabric-covered ball, the sport is versatile, and has seen the beach game take the focus at summer and festival events.
Wysynski credits much of the recent developments to a participatory model of transparent governance: “National federation leaders do most of the work in managing programs and growing the sport. This has led to a strong and trusting relationship between the international federation and its individual members. The unique byproduct of this is a desire for countries to help one another. The idea of a national head coach mentoring a potential rival seems odd, but it’s exactly how we’ve been able to nurture development in new territories.”
To this end, the WDBF has seen its competition footprint grow substantially in just three years. In addition to the annual World Championships and associated continental championships, the sport will be featured for the first time at both the TAFISA World Games and CSIT World Sport Games in June of this year, and will be introduced at the Gay Games in Hong Kong in 2022.
While the WDBF has embraced this growth, Wysynski is aware that the current pace cannot be sustained without significant investment. “The federation needs international partners. Historically we have been supported at the regional level for major events. But now we are seeking an organisation that can support our ambitious development and help bring the sport to the next level.”
“We’ve been fortunate to leverage the community to get a lot done in building the foundations of the sport and creating an appealing product,” Wysynski explains, “But we’ve essentially reached a limit on where we can go with current resources. We are looking to develop partnerships with organisations either seeking entry into the sports market or looking to expand their presence. Dodgeball is a low-cost opportunity with a defined market and an established competition history.”
Back in Edmonton, Canada, the national federation tries to navigate Covid-19 protocols and deal with restrictions on playing and training. Dodgeball Canada is deciding that the off time is better spent developing its player base and keeping its community engaged. Their “Dodgeball is Everybody” campaign gathers stories from players and coaches, asked to nominate leagues that exemplify the community spirit and go above and being in making players feel welcome, respected and empowered.
“This campaign captures what it means to be involved in dodgeball, all around the world,” asserts Wysynski, “We see this in Australia, Cameroon, the United States, the United Kingdom – everywhere. Players come to the World Championships or to one of the major international tournaments, and it’s like old friends at a school reunion.”
This fellowship, Wysynski believes, can be attributed to the nature of the game and its emphasis on personal accountability.
“Officials in dodgeball are there to maintain the flow of the game and to enforce the rules, certainly. But the frenetic nature of play means that the accountability for calling oneself out remains largely with the player. There aren’t many sports where the player has the obligation to make a call against themselves. Accountability is everything in dodgeball, and it extends from the front court to the front office.”
The level of camaraderie and unity that exists is what keeps players in the sport year after year, and it’s what keep federation presidents, meet directors, officials coming back to competition time and again, despite the absence of financial incentives.
Wysynski is proud of the community and the dedication and selflessness it exhibits. “The community – players, volunteers, officials – have given everything to the sport. We want to ensure that we are able to give back in equal measure. There is a desire for what we offer, and so much potential for growth. Dodgeball truly is a sport for everyone.”