Baseball desperately wants to stay on the Olympics schedule.
Not literally baseball, but the International Federation, which created a confederation with its softball partner, after analyzing the suitability of being together to remain in the program.
However, everything remained the same. Both stay on the guest script and will only participate in certain Olympic Games, when the host city so determines.
They will not be in Paris 2024, although they plan to say they will be present in Los Angeles 2028, which is similar to what happened at the games in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
There are many reasons for this situation, the main ones being that baseball is not very popular and the best players do not go to Olympic events, because they are immersed in their own leagues.
It is for this reason that the WBSC has decided to turn its face towards an activity that has been played for decades in the streets and neighborhoods, including those in Panama.
It is an urban method that has received different names, depending on the region and country, but today it is known worldwide as “Baseball 5”.
The idea, the same one that gave birth to the “classical world”, is to seek out new places and countries and to urge sport “at any cost”, with the intention of staying forever in the Olympic Games.
In the final round of the Classic, countries are included that, although they play sports, do so in a very basic way, such as Pakistan, the Czech Republic and New Zealand, for example.
But it wasn’t enough. The facilities and equipment used in the sport are very expensive, which is why many countries choose to venture into areas that are less stressful and more “creative” for their youth.
As a result, the initiative to introduce the new method was launched in 2017, taking into account its lower costs, fast pace and the fact that only a small field is necessary, making it accessible and attractive.
In the same year, a tournament was held in Cuba, which improved the regulations, based on a game with five entries and five players per team.
In 2018, the organizers of the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires showed the sport in a special area prepared for it.
An important detail in all of this literature is that teams include both men and women, which carries a universal message of gender equality.
The following year, the federation held the first Open Championship of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, in which Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Guatemala participated.
In 2020, the innovative method was transferred to Gambia, a small African country where they did not know the traditional sport, and then its rules became official.
This was the federation’s introduction to inclusion in the 2026 Dakar Youth Olympics (originally for 2022), and is a stepping stone used by other organizations to enter the general Olympic programme.
“This marks an important milestone in the recent development of making baseball not only a global sport, but also an Olympic sport in the long term,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari.
Last November, in its unstoppable journey towards full recognition, the first World Cup was held in Mexico, where Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela, Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya, France, Korea, Lithuania and Hong Kong also participated.
The World Cup qualifiers followed a series of regional qualifiers involving Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo and Jordan.
In addition to Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Pakistan, Laos, Israel, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Guatemala, Argentina, the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.
At the end of the year, Oberlin University in Tokyo announced that it would assign “Baseball 5” as a curricular subject in 2023, to improve students’ skills and behavior.
A starting point for success
President Riccardo Fraccari, the Italian captain who has been in charge of baseball since 2009, considers the sport to be the greatest driver to be Olympic and played around the world.
Hence, it “copied” the idea of other disciplines, such as cycling and basketball, raising the possibility of other modalities to increase their presence, while making them more popular.
This is how BMX competitions were introduced, while basketball did so with the 3×3 competition, and other urban activities were added, such as Skateboarding, Climbing and Breakdancing.
But all or most of them were first taken to two competitions that do not have an Olympic bid, but are organized by the same IOC (Youth Games and World Cup), which gave them great exposure.
Perhaps, if she’s lucky, Fraccari will not only field 5 baseball, but at least keep women’s softball on the Olympic program forever.
The federation has sought to devote activity in its affiliated countries since 2020, encouraging them to organize tournaments so that it is, effectively, a method practiced by everyone.
Many organizations have taken the first step and held arbitration seminars, but the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered the entry plan completely, first in schools and then in neighbourhoods.
However, this was not an obstacle for some organizations, such as the National Softball Association of Guatemala, to take up the challenge, when the WBSC gave them the responsibility to implement it.
“At one point it was given to baseball, but they didn’t act and he thought our system could carry out that challenge,” said the league’s president, Hector Sazo.
He explained that the program will be promoted in 2023, when the Olympic Committee allocates a budget that allows the employment of technicians, and there will be an area inside one of the softball fields for team training.
He said that Guatemala had some setbacks, such as the two hurricanes that hit Central America and another with a legal system, but everything is ready to continue developing Baseball 5 in schools and marginal areas.
“We will participate in the Youth Olympic Games (2026) and work for them,” Sazo said.
In fact, the intent is to make history and both the Federation led by Frakari and the Organization led by Sazu, are on this path.
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