Dear baseball and softball athletes, leaders, WBSC partners, media representatives, and fans around the world,
We have reached the end a year that will surely remain etched in the minds of each and every one of us. Unlike previous addresses, this year’s message does not celebrate our competition results, nor the successes obtained by various nations. Instead, as we look back on 2020, our thoughts immediately go to all those who have been impacted by the unthinkable, unexpected and challenging COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, we have been made aware of our fragility by an enemy that has reshaped our everyday lives and the sports world, resulting in the cancellation or postponement of all of our major events this year, including our spectacular and long anticipated return to the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020.
However, despite the adversities faced in 2020, the WBSC has pressed ahead with changes to our organisational structure that will safeguard the future of our sport and community in the challenging years ahead.
In this regard, we have accelerated our expansion into “E-Sports”. With the input from our Athletes Commission, we have developed the virtual version of baseball through a mobile game called “Playball”, which will be available next year. Games for softball and Baseball5 will also be released in the near future.
We have also drawn up a Strategic Plan for the period from 2021-2024, which has been published on our website. This is because the WBSC is committed to transparency as well as wanting to share our future goals with all of you so that we can achieve them together. Each of you is a key player in shaping the future of the WBSC.
We have worked intensely on the reorganisation of the federation for greater functionality and efficiency. The new structure, which outlines the various departments, is also published on the WBSC website.
The economic constraints caused by lockdowns and other restrictions will make it more difficult for our movement to find resources, particularly for Member Federations who are organising or participating in events. For this reason, we have established two Working Groups – for baseball and softball – which are “rethinking” the frequency, structure and conduct of all our activities on behalf of our stakeholders. This will allow us to better anticipate and plan for the challenges that we will all encounter in the years ahead.
Findings from the working groups have been presented and discussed during the latest meeting of the Executive Board on 9 December 2020. The outcome of the discussion and the related decisions are also available on the website. I want to assure all of you that the WBSC is continuously exploring new ways in which we can continue to support all of our members during these most challenging of times.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have many consequences in the coming years. It will affect the way in which we communicate, interact, travel and behave. For example, in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our work, we opened the WBSC Academy e-learning platform and quickly shifted our meetings with Member Federations, Continental Associations, Commissions and the Executive Board to a virtual format. This has allowed the WBSC team in Pully to communicate more easily and frequently with our members outside of Switzerland.
Another important step in expanding our sport’s global footprint/future was the opening of our new and permanent global headquarters, ‘Home Plate’, near the Olympic capital. The inauguration in July was attended by the leader of the Olympic Movement, IOC President Thomas Bach, in addition to various other sports leaders and local Swiss authorities.
To this day, I remember the words of encouragement we received from President Bach, who said: “I’m really impressed by this new headquarters of the WBSC. Not because of its grandeur, but because of its elegance, its style, its functionality and also its commitment to the environmental protection and the sustainable building,” as well as those of Association Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) President Francesco Ricci Bitti: “This illustrates the strong Olympic relationship which baseball and softball has, and this is very important for a sport which does not have its roots in Europe. The fact baseball and softball is so close to the IOC provides a very strong message of unity.”
Words that should not only give encouragement and hope, but which should also stimulate all of us to continue working with determination. Above all, this serves as a positive endorsement by the Olympic Movement of the work undertaken by the WBSC and its global family.
These words express the appreciation the Olympic Movement has for each and every one of you, from athletes to coaches, to managers and league officials. And for all of you, who passionately dedicate your time and energy for the continued development and growth of baseball and softball.
Another important milestone surpassed in 2020, which was well received by the IOC, was the creation of the WBSC Integrity Unit, which is tasked with safeguarding and reinforcing good governance within our organisation. I want to thank our Secretary General Beng Choo Low for having accepted the responsibility of leading this important work.
It is also worth highlighting — that even amid the pandemic — Baseball5 has experienced a tremendous year of growth and development. At the start of the year, we were delighted to announce with the IOC that our newest discipline had been added to the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2022. Whilst Baseball5’s debut on the Olympic stage has now been postponed to 2026, we have witnessed flourishing Baseball5 initiatives and events across all continents. This demonstrates the importance of this discipline for the development of baseball and softball. Today, we are working diligently with our Continental Association to have Baseball5 added to sports programmes of various continental and regional Games. We hope to count on the support of all of you for this important task.
There’s no doubt that I look forward to putting 2020 behind us and to see our athletes back on the field of play. By March we plan to restart our competitions with the staging of two Baseball World Cups (Under-15 and Women’s) in Mexico.
This will be done through the use of a bubble protocol aimed at protecting the health and well-being of all those involved. We have every confidence in our safety protocol, which was tested in Mexico at the height of the pandemic in July and resulted in no infections despite extensive testing.
The imminent rollout of vaccines will hopefully and potentially allow for a return to a form of normality and next summer, which will be highlighted by our highly anticipated and spectacular return to the Olympic stage at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where I am certain we will be amongst the top and most anticipated sports — building the case for our sport and athletes to be a part of future editions, including the Los Angeles 2028 Games. The athletes who will represent us at Tokyo 2020 will be the best ambassadors for demonstrating how our sport can further elevate the Olympic brand and help the IOC to realise its important objectives.
In closing, I would like to thank the WBSC Board Members and Commissions, Continental Confederations, Member Federations, Associate Members, all the leagues around the world, the athletes, coaches, umpires and the WBSC staff for their endearing commitment and dedication to growing our sport despite the difficult year we have all faced.
On behalf of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, I would also like to thank and recognise all those who help and contribute to the growth of baseball and softball around the world.