Federation Focus: Baseball5 gives new impetus to development in Tunisia

Federation Focus: Baseball5 gives new impetus to development in Tunisia
Tunisia was the first Arabic country to play baseball and lived its golden age in the 1980s but suffered a crisis in the early 1990s. Thanks to the introduction of Baseball5, the federation is now making a comeback.

From hosting the first WBSC Congress in 2014 to being nominated for the National Olympic Committee Olympic Torch Award for governance, the Tunisian Baseball and Softball Federation under the leadership of President Saber Jlajla, who turned 52 today (28 February), is undergoing an exciting renaissance.

The practice of Baseball was introduced in Tunisia after the first World War by Dr. C.G. Kelly, a historian and scholar from Baltimore, USA. Tunisia is the first Arabic country that has practiced baseball to date.

The Tunisian League of Baseball was officially created in 1920. Tunisia had become a French Protectorate in 1881 when the Ottoman Empire had started dissolving at the end of the Russo-Turkish War.

France had known the game since the late 18th century, thanks to the famed Albert Spalding World Tour, but won't officially have a Baseball Federation until after the 1924 Olympics.

Various baseball clubs formed in Tunisia in the 1920s and 1930s, but it was during World War II that the golden age of baseball began. The presence of the American Army on the territory helped the development of the game. At least 10 different clubs were active. Baseball was played at the American school and later was introduced to students in local schools.

Read also: The birth of baseball/softball in Palestine

In 1952 Tunisia began its process of independence from France, that ended in 1956 when Habib Bourguiba became the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tunisia. Soon after, the Baseball Federation of Tunisia became a member of the European Baseball Federation.

The administration became stronger in the 1980s. The Baseball Softball Federation (Fédération Tunisienne de Baseball et Softball, FTBS) became a reality in 1983. As many as 12 clubs were active during this period. Unfortunately, the activity came to a sudden stop at the end of the decade.

It resumed in 1994, thanks to the initiative of the Confederation of European Baseball but the activity until 2011 is described as "modest".

Jlajla, the President currently in office, was elected in 2012. He is in charge of the sports infrastructure at the Commissariat Regional de la Jeunesse et des Sports in Bizerte, where he was born. He is also President of the African Baseball Softball Association, thus also holding the position of WBSC Contintental Vice President

In 2012 Jlajla, who was one of the players during the 1980s golden age and went on to manage the National Team, introduced two categories of youth baseball - cadets and juniors - and the number of baseball clubs grew to 11.

He also introduced mixed softball and by 2014 four softball teams were formed. Baseball and softball are taught in Tunisia in four Federal schools. The number of licensed players grew to 1,200 in baseball and 250 in softball.

Tunisia would then host the very first WBSC Congress in May 2014 and in July 2018, Tunisia changed its perspective after FTBS introduced Baseball5 into the country. The new street version of baseball/softball was immediately endorsed by over 100 participants in a Training and Vacation programme. In a second stage, eight mixed teams were formed.

In December 2019 Tunisia launched the first Baseball5 National Championship. A total of seven teams participated.

"We took Baseball5 to the streets, the school….everywhere," Jlajla said. "Minister of Youth and Sport Sonia Ben Cheikh was very impressed by Baseball5 and is fully supporting the project."

FTBS struck a partnership deal with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to hold courses and clinics for coaches, umpires and players in 427 Youth Centres across Tunisia.

"Baseball5 is the best way to move on," added Jlajla. "It's easy, it requires not much time to play a game and there's no venue involved."

The success enjoyed with the introduction of Baseball5 earned FTBS a nomination by the National Olympic Committee (CNOT) for the Prix du Flambeu Olympicque (Olympic Torch Award) for the category Gouvernance Sportive.

"Unfortunately we did not win but we ranked third out of 11 participating Federations," commented Jlajla.

The best is yet to come. A total of 12 journalists participated in a course held by WBSC Continental Instructor Chedli Mokrani in early 2020. "They can be of great support to our strategy and maximize the visibility of the new sport," Jlajla said. "Baseball5 has definitely given our Federation a new impetus".