Federation Focus: Baseball5 Continental Champions South Africa looking to push development to next level

Federation Focus: Baseball5 Continental Champions South Africa looking to push development to next level
The WBSC spoke with the South African Baseball Union's president, Marc Moreau, and U-12 National Team manager Ian Griebenow. "I believe Africa has the biggest potential for growth in the world," says Moreau.

The latest installment of WBSC's Federation Focus series is dedicated to the South African Baseball Union (SABU).

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- The 2021 Federation Focus series

Americans who migrated to South Africa during the gold boom introduced baseball to the Transvaal province in 1895. The Transvaal's baseball body was born in 1904.

In the 1930s, Transvaal and Natal played interprovincial baseball in Durban. The South African Baseball Federation was founded in 1935.

The first national baseball tournament in the country took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 1952.

During the apartheid era, three different governing bodies oversaw baseball activity in the various South African nations. One of those was the South African Baseball Federation.
Three governing bodies merged into SABU in the early 1990s.

Marc Moreau, 67, is the president of SABU. Born in Congo, he arrived in South Africa with his family in 1961. Moreay lived in Belgium from 1979 to 1995. He qualified as an accountant, an electrical engineer and has a PhD in Finance. Moreau also has an impressive background, also having played tennis and rugby at the international level.

"I got in touch with baseball as a spectator," he told the WBSC during a telephone interview. "I was watching other kids playing, and one of the teams fell one player short. They invited me to play, and that's it. When my son started playing baseball, he wasn't even aware of my background."

Moreau was elected president in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic was the most challenging time of his term, halting the progress and momentum baseball had been building in the country.

"We stopped activity in March 2020 and didn't start over until October 2021. During the pandemic, no sports activity was allowed in schools."

While South Africa is currently 26th in the WBSC Baseball World Rankings, the nation is the leading baseball country on the continent.

"We have activity in the nine provinces. Each province elects its elite players and forms a team to participate in the national championship."

Each age group has a national championship. They are typically scheduled in March or April.

"The Cape Town area has the most activity, 21 clubs and probably two-thirds of the registered players," added Moreau. "In 2022, eight provinces formed women's baseball clubs."

Women who showed interest in the game had been traditionally pushed into softball, but things are evolving under Moreau's leadership: "Before I was elected president, SABU chose to direct women to softball. In 2022 we had eight provinces participate with a women's baseball team."

What relation do you have with the softball governing body?
"We act as two separate bodies but have a good relationship. Softball is one step ahead. They have more facilities in rural South Africa."

Gift Ngoepe became the first South African-born and bred player to play at the Major League Baseball (MLB) level. Pitcher Tyler Scott is following in his steps.

Right-handed pitcher Dylan Unsworth played baseball in five continents.

"We have 15 South African players at the college level in the United States," commented Moreau. "My goal is to open and host a baseball academy to support the development of the best talent in Africa."

South Africa has been a regular on the international stage.
"We are getting better, but we face the challenge of being isolated. We don't have a lot of opportunities to play with neighbour countries, and participating internationally is a challenge. We don't get government funding, and players' families have to support them most of the time."

SABA aims to host events.
"We hosted France, and the series attracted respectable crowds," commented Moreau. "My dream is to host in Cape Town a big U-12 event. We are targeting December 2024. We already started discussing the feasibility with the WBSC and the Mayor of Capetown."

A semi-pro league would be next: "The goal would be having our top players play quality baseball and attract import players.

The idea would be to implement a franchise system, says Moreau.

"Of course, we need a plan to make it sustainable first. To attract corporate interest, we need to make baseball more visible. That's why we opened social media profiles and a YouTube channel."

South Africa won the first-ever Baseball5 African Championship and will participate in the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup.

"We introduced Baseball5 in October 2021. We saw it as a catalyst for baseball. In the meantime, we sent our two National Team coaches, Americo Suma and Hayley Scott, to the various provinces to scout and select the best players for the National Team. We participated in the African Championship to win, and we succeeded."

South Africa recently participated in the VI WBSC U-12 Baseball World Cup.

"We worked hard for three months and we were able to select the final 18-player roster," said manager Ian Griebenow. "We are proud our U-12 National Team represents South Africa in all demographics. We were able to identify players from areas that have just started play."

Griebenow added: "Our players received first-class treatment from their arrival in Tainan. We can bring that back to South Africa and grow the game."

On a final note, Moreau spoke about the future of baseball in Africa.
"I believe Africa has the biggest potential for growth in the world. We have 57 countries, and only 18 or 19 of them [organize] baseball. I like the overall WBSC strategy about Africa and contributed to the WBSC Africa Constitution. At the same time, I am realistic and aware that an overall development plan is still far away."