WBSC Co-President Fraccari Talks About Worldwide Potential For America's Game
The Int'l Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the Int'l Softball Federation joined forces this year and created the World Baseball Softball Confederation. The new single federation representing both sports aims at giving every boy and girl in the world a chance to play the game. Current IBAF President and WBSC Co-President RICCARDO FRACCARI recently talked to SBD Global about the organization's failed bid for inclusion in the Olympic program, baseball's global growth and the fight against doping.
Q: Baseball and softball submitted a combined bid for re-inclusion in the Olympics program at the 2020 Tokyo Games. However, the bid failed. Will you try it again and how important is it for baseball to be an Olympic sport?
Riccardo Fraccari: This historic unification in establishing the WBSC has been made to serve the long-term interests and evolution of baseball and softball. The Olympic Games is the world’s most influential sport gathering, and while the WBSC board has not taken any formal decision on future Olympic bids, ‘Go for the Gold’ would be the likely welcomed policy, should baseball and softball have the honor to be considered again by the IOC.
Q: Baseball is very popular in Asian, North and South American countries.
How do you plan to increase baseball’s popularity in places such as Europe or Africa?
Fraccari: For Europe, we foresee continued growth and increased participation in world championship events. Just a few days ago, executives from the Australian Baseball League, the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization and Japan’s Nippon Professional League formalized the decision to add the annual European club champion to the prestigious Asia Series ‘tournament of champions’ starting with the 2013 edition in November. Europe has hit several other major milestones recently, such as the construction of the first dedicated baseball-softball facility in the U.K. this past July; and other new projects are being planned or in phases of completion in this region. The increase in facilities and playing fields is a very strong indicator of not only the resourcefulness of our national federations or the increase in participation numbers, but more importantly, the favorable results European countries, such as Italy and the Netherlands, are achieving in international events, since such important projects are obviously stimulated by winning traditions. While baseball and softball have a presence in Africa and the Middle East, these important regions are seen as great opportunities where the immersion of our sport could help enrich the sporting landscape. Development here is one of the principle objectives of our long-term growth strategy over the next decade, especially as these regions are becoming increasingly attractive as hosts of international sporting events.
Q: The creation of the World Baseball Classic together with the MLB has exposed baseball to a wider global audience. What’s your opinion on the first three editions?
Fraccari: The success and expansion of the World Baseball Classic from 2006-2013 has helped to solidify our sport as a global product, with the last edition selling nearly 900,000 tickets and setting broadcast records. The WBC is a showcase event that will continue to strengthen the broadcast power of our sport and will add resources and exposure to further spread our sport’s reach and culture into new and emerging territories, all of which circles around to driving global development initiatives.
Q: Besides the WBC, do the IBAF and MLB work together on other projects? Overall, how is the collaboration between MLB, its Commissioner Bud Selig and the IBAF?
Fraccari: MLB and other professional leagues, such as Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, are valuable partners in the promotion of WBSC’s Olympic aims and they actively work or serve as key supporters of WBSC’s national federations on various clinics, academies, development and construction projects and social initiatives.
Q: In order to make cricket more attractive for TV viewers and spectators, the sport came up with the idea of a shortened version called Twenty20 cricket. Do you consider changing to the game to make it more exciting and TV-friendly?
Fraccari: The valuations of our sport’s media properties as well as ticket sales, from the various national professional leagues to national team world championships, are at or around all-time highs, which suggests the game’s pace, excitement level and format are within target parameters.
Q: Baseball, like many other sports, has been plagued by an epidemic of drug abuse. What does your organization do to combat doping in the sport?
Fraccari: At the international federation level, we have adopted the World Anti-doping (WADA) code and run educational programs encouraging ‘fair play’ and warning of associated health risks. We are very proud of the recent advancements of professional league partners, such as MLB, who have been praised by WADA for having implemented some of the most comprehensive testing policies in sport, even including blood testing, in the fight against doping and in the best interests of those athletes who are respecting the rules.
Q: Going forward, what are the most pressing issues on the IBAF’s agenda?
Fraccari: Due to the increasing demand, from commercial, media and player perspectives, and to help achieve both short- and long-term objectives, a new professional-level international baseball tournament, the Premiere 12, will be introduced in Japan in 2015. The development of the promotional strategy, identifying partners and capitalizing on opportunities to optimize the success of this event and expand our global footprint are among the day-to-day priorities.