WBSC Legacy Club: Baseball5 in Refugee Camps

WBSC Legacy Club: Baseball5 in Refugee Camps
A Q & A with WBSC Chief Operating Officer (COO) Marco Ienna explains the importance of Baseball5 in Refugee Camps and the commitment of the WBSC Legacy Club.

Following the launch of the WBSC Legacy Club in April, Baseball5 has become an increasingly importance tool to help with its vision - to grow Baseball/Softball and to make it relevant in people’s lives, while using Baseball/Softball as a tool to bridge cultural gaps, improve health and education standards and aid social development around the world through innovative programmes and initiatives.

WBSC Chief Operating Officer Marco Ienna (MI) explains in this Q & A about the importance of Baseball5, especially in Refugee Camps and the commitment of the WBSC Legacy Club.

Question 1) How did the WBSC manage to introduce Baseball5 to the Al Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan?
MI) "The project developed quickly, but it's the result of an evolution over the years. The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the International Softball Federation (ISF) merged into the WBSC 10 years ago. The governing body has reached a level of awareness and maturity, allowing the possibility to impact and leave an important legacy.

"We brought Baseball5 to the Friendship Games in Bujumbura, Burundi, in 2017 and 2018. These Games are meant to promote peace through sports and involve over 200 children from Burundi, Ruanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"In 2019 we introduced Baseball5 in Zaatari, Jordan, the largest Camp for Syrian Refugees, managed by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR.) We held a two-day seminar and could reach many of the 80,000 who live in the camp. The WBSC became a Sport for Refugees Coalition member soon after."

Q2) What was the commitment the WBSC made as part of being a member of the Sports Coalition?
MI) "The WBSC committed to improve access to inclusive and safe sports structures to refugees and use Baseball/Softball to offer the Refugees more sport-opportunities. In 2020 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF) and World Taekwondo (WT) to reduce inequality, promote peace and social development. Unfortunately, the pandemic outbreak delayed our actions until September 2022."

Q3) What happened in September 2022?
MI) "We involved a Jordan coach in a three-month course. He became the head coach of the WBSC Baseball5 Azraq Refugee Team. The WBSC participated in the Hope and Dreams Sports Festival with 40 Refugees. We also opened a Baseball5 field inside the Humanitarian Sports Centre in the Azraq Refugee Camp."

Q4 ) What is the goal of the Legacy Club?
MI) "The goal is to support projects aiming at improving education, health care, and social development standards through baseball/softball. Our project in Azraq involves 50 young Refugees, boys and girls. They competed with neighbouring villages in July. President Fraccari witnessed their success."

Q5) It is surprising how Baseball5 enjoyed success in conditions which are far from ideal?
MI) "You need only a ball to play Baseball5; that's a strength of this young and successful version of baseball/softball. Baseball5 is accessible and inclusive. The fact three African Nations participated in the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup demonstrates it. We are making baseball/softball accessible outside the traditional community. Palestine gives us another example. Baseball5 has been played regularly in the Gaza Strip in the last three years."

Q6) Will we have a Refugee Team participate in WBSC tournaments?
MI) "Definitely so. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had an Olympic Refugee Team at the Tokyo 2020 Games. This had an impact, forcing everybody to acknowledge the difficult situation 80,000 people are living in. At the Games, 29 Refugees participated in 12 sports. It was an unbelievable message of hope and solidarity to the world. We aim to send our Azraq team to the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup in October in Turkey and the Youth Olympic Games in 2026 in Dakar, Senegal. Naturally, we are aware of the difficulties and limitations we may have to face assembling a team of underage Refugees."

Q7) How did the WBSC fund this initiative?
MI) "We started thanks to a US$50,000 donation by the IOC. It was enough to guarantee water and food to support the athletes, educate the local coaches and the first events. We need more resources, of course. The ultimate goal is to have one or more Refugee teams participate in international events. We want also to support these boys and girls in education, first of all, English courses. We also count on the generosity of baseball fans. Everybody can donate to support the project."

Q8) The WBSC project responds to the migration emergency in Europe. Do you have other humanitarian projects in mind?
MI) "The migration emergency is one of many problems of our society. The WBSC Legacy Club aims to reduce inequalities in education, health care, economic and social development. We want to use baseball/softball to do that. We want to support local communities in developing a more sustainable future for their future generations. That would be the WBSC Legacy we are all aiming for."