WBSC President Fraccari praises role of baseball in return of spectator sport in Japan
• Monday, 4 January 2021
World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) President Riccardo Fraccari has praised how baseball has spearheaded attempts to hold sporting events in Japan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In October, nearly 28,000 people attended a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) game at Yokohama Stadium as part of a trial for COVID-19 safety and tracking measures.
The results are expected to influence how fans are able to attend contests at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, if at all, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the time saying that this "scientific knowledge" would be valuable in determining preventative measures.
Baseball and softball are both due to feature at Tokyo 2020, with softball set to get underway on July 21 - two days before the Opening Ceremony.
"As one of the most popular sports in Japan, baseball has played a key role in leading innovations in health and safety protocols and countermeasures at sports events," Fraccari said.
"The NPB game in October at the Yokohama Stadium, an Olympic baseball and softball venue, demonstrated how live sport can be played in a safe environment with tens of thousands of spectators in attendance.
"Our sport inspired hope and allowed us all to witness live sport with the cheer of the crowd bolstering that electric atmosphere that we all know and love."
Yokohama Stadium is one of two venues set to be used for baseball and softball at the Games, the other being Fukushima's Azuma Baseball Stadium.
"The first six games of the competition will be held at the Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima, demonstrating the incredible transformation of the region following the devastation caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake," continued Fraccari in an op-ed for the WBSC website.
"It is certainly an honour for the softball community and especially the six qualified teams - Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico and USA - to start the Games and we are proud of the role our sport has played in supporting the recovery of Fukushima and its people.
"I know that our sport and athletes will not only showcase the best of softball but also provide a fitting start to what will be a fantastic Olympic Games."
In baseball, Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea have all qualified so far, with two spots still up for grabs.
An Americas qualification tournament and a final world qualifier were both postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and are yet to be rescheduled.
Fraccari also expressed his hopes for baseball and softball to make a return at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, having been omitted from the Paris 2024 programme.
"Yet our journey will not stop at Tokyo 2020, as there is a bright and strong future ahead for baseball-softball, and we will have our sights set on the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games and beyond, because we know there are so many positive contributions our sport can continue to make to the Olympic Movement," Fraccari added.
"For example, our accessible and inclusive urban discipline Baseball5 will debut at the 2026 Dakar Youth Olympic Games as the first Olympic team sport to feature mixed-gender teams."