2020 in Review: Baseball-softball global activity remains strong in challenging times

2020 in Review: Baseball-softball global activity remains strong in challenging times
31/12/2020
In the final part of it's 2020 in Review series, the WBSC looks at the state of play of the international Baseball, Softball and Baseball5 events calendar, with the potential of an action-packed 2021 ahead.

The past 12 months have certainly not been the year the world imagined. But despite the significant impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020 international sports calendar, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) -- and the sport of baseball and softball -- will potentially become stronger, and also grow in different ways in the years to come as a result of the challenges faced this year.

The WBSC kicked off the year in style with the inaugural U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup in New Zealand. This elite youth event saw undefeated Japan claim the junior world title for the third time in history, following several dominant performances during the team’s campaign. Meanwhile, five-time champions Australia clinched their first silver medal and the Czech Republic’s historic campaign saw them bring home their first-ever medal in the history of the event.

This tournament had set the bar high for the rest of the year, one of incredible feats of sporting excellence and electric baseball-softball action. However, as the extent and severity of the global COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, the WBSC leadership acted quickly and took all necessary measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the global baseball-softball community, its number one priority.


Baseball

In line with the guidance of health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), in March, the WBSC decided to postpone the Baseball Final Qualifier and Americas Olympic Baseball Qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in light of the pandemic. In addition, the World Baseball Classic Qualifier for the flagship competition scheduled for 9-23 March 2021 was also postponed.

Later that month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and Japan’s then Prime Minister Abe Shinzo jointly decided to postpone Tokyo 2020 to the summer of 2021 to ensure the health and wellbeing of all involved. The WBSC and global baseball-softball community fully supported this decision and has continued to work in close coordination with the IOC to organise its remaining Olympic qualification events.

The sport has also been a leader in helping the world witness the gradual return of live sport. Baseball made headlines around the world as several domestic leagues restarted with strict safety measures in place to great success, including Taiwan’s professional baseball league CPBL, which was one of the first to open its doors to up to 2,000 fans per game.

Moreover, following the release of the WBSC’s Return to Play guidelines for the safe return of baseball and softball activities in the context of COVID-19, the ProBeis Mexican Prospects League played 21 games and was featured as an exemplar case study during the IF Forum 2020.

Most recently, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball and softball venue, Yokohama Stadium, became the first Japanese sporting venue, and likely the only one in the world of sport, to allow for full spectator capacity through the implementation of rigorous health and safety protocols and the latest countermeasures during a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) game.


Softball

With respect to softball, the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup, originally scheduled for 20-28 February 2021, was postponed to 2022. In addition, the 2021 WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup has been postponed to 2023 to ensure harmony with the international sports calendar and for the primary spotlight to remain on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the postponement of the Olympic Games to 2021 and the World Games to 2022, we wanted to ensure softball athletes had an opportunity for world-class competition in each of the next three years,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari.


Baseball5

For Baseball5 -- the fast-paced, youth-focused, five-on-five urban discipline -- 2020 started in strongest way possible as the IOC approved the proposal of the Dakar 2022 Organising Committee to add Baseball5 to the Sports Programme of the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2022. Although Dakar 2022 was later postponed to 2026, this was still an important milestone in the evolution and journey of Baseball5, which will be the first Youth Olympic team sport to feature mixed-gender teams.

Meanwhile, following the initial postponement of the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup and Youth Baseball5 World Cup, the WBSC Executive Board decided to reshape the Baseball5 international calendar with the new, five-on-five World Cup set to begin in 2022 and played on even years thereafter. The Baseball5 Youth World Cup, for the ages of 14-18, will be played on odd years starting from 2023.


Preview of the 2021 calendar

The WBSC is looking forward to the gradual resumption of its sport in 2021, with the health and safety of all participants its top priority.

The 2021 international baseball-softball sports calendar is currently set to begin in style with the WBSC Women’s and U-15 Baseball World Cups scheduled for March. The WBSC is also closely coordinating with organisers to confirm the dates for the Americas Baseball Olympic Qualifiers and Final Baseball Olympic Qualifiers before the world comes together for, and baseball-softball makes its return to, the Olympic Games, in what will be a universal symbol of humanity’s solidarity and resilience at Tokyo 2020.

The baseball-softball action will not stop here, however, as a series of elite youth World Cups are scheduled to run from August through to October, including the U-12 Baseball World Cup, U-12 Softball World Cup, U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup, U-18 Baseball World Cup, U-23 Baseball World Cup and U-23 Men’s Softball World Cup.


End of Year Review series

2020 - WBSC Covid-19 Timeline
2020 - WBSC passes 750k followers on social media
2020 - Beng Choo Low: 2020 accelerates adaptation and progress for international baseball/softball
2020 - 'Federation Focus' series highlights baseball/softball activity around the world
2020 - WBSC Athletes Commission stays active, reviews game amid COVID-19 pandemic
2020 - End-of-the-year message from WBSC President to the global Baseball Softball community
2020 - Baseball 5 - Baseball5 takes the sport to communities never reached before
2020 - Softball: Olympic Softball architect Don Porter passes away; U-18 Men only World Cup played in disrupted year
2020 - Baseball: An international baseball season like no other
2020 - U-18 Men’s Softball World Cup: Japan wins lone global baseball/softball event in 2020
2020 - Development: Global baseball-softball development doesn’t stop amid global pandemic
2019 WBSC Congress one-year progress report: An unforgettable year in many ways
2019 - Year in Review