2019: A Year of Firsts - Gender equality, technology and innovation

2019: A Year of Firsts - Gender equality, technology and innovation
Gender equality, technology and innovation headlined the Year of Firsts for the World Baseball Softball Confederation in 2019.

The first ever mixed gender baseball softball tournament - the WBSC U-12 Mixed Softball World Cup - was staged in July in Tainan City, where the hosts Chinese Taipei earned the title, with Peru and the Czech Republic earning their first-ever medals on the softball world stage.

It was a ground breaking tournament for the WBSC and international sport, where few other ball sports compete with such equality. Key rules include each team having at least four girls and four boys on the field of play at any one time, with a batting line-up alternating five girls and five boys. There were no pitch counts while a facemask in defense is mandatory for all athletes playing 3rd base, 1st base or pitcher.

WBSC Secretary General Beng Choo Low explained that the new event is designed to further boost gender equality across all WBSC disciplines. “WBSC is very happy to have held this new mixed team format for Softball. We have to keep thinking outside the box and breaking barriers. We are now not only the only International Federation and global sport to have a World Cup for the U12 category but also in a mixed team U12 format. With an equal number of boys and girls playing in a team, we have true gender equality.”

2019 Series: Year in Review
A Year of Firsts - Gender equality, technology and innovation
U-19 Softball World Cup - USA first to three-peat as U-19 world champs
U-18 Baseball World Cup - Epic Lo performance helps Chinese Taipei end USA dominance
U-12 Softball Mixed World Cup - WBSC makes huge step on gender equality with first-ever mixed event
U-12 Baseball World Cup - Chen hits Chinese Taipei home in new home for U-12 baseball
Softball Olympic Qualifiers - Mexico in Olympics for first time as softball field complete
Baseball Olympic Qualifiers - Israel's historic first time in Olympic baseball tournament
Development - Africa Dev Programme & Women’s Baseball lead impressive year of growth
Premier12 - The “biggest int’l baseball event in recent history”
WBSC - Huge year sets up foundation for bright future
Baseball5 - Continues to spread like "wildfire"
Men’s Softball World Championship - Argentina clinch historic title as Europe hosts for first time
Chinese Taipei wins U-12, U-18 Baseball World Cups, Asian Championship, Fed of the Year
President Fraccari: “2019 - The biggest year in int’l baseball, softball history”

Meanwhile, in other key firsts, Fiji participated in the U-12 Baseball World Cup – which was held simultaneously with the U-12 Softball World Cup - marking the very first time the Pacific Island nation performed on the world stage.

Developing the game in the 300-island archipelago is not easy. Manager Inoke Niubalavu commented: “People in Fiji don’t realize how huge baseball is in the world. Competing on the world stage will make these kids more aware. I hope this has a good impact on the development of baseball.”

The U-12 Baseball World Cup also included the incredible opening of a brand new $130m stadium in Tainan dedicated to U-12 baseball.

The WBSC’s flagship event, the Premier12, also provided many historic firsts. The tournament was staged in four different countries - Japan and Chinese Taipei had already hosted the Premier12 2015 – with Mexico (Guadalajara) and Korea (the capital city Seoul) staging the premier event of men’s baseball for the first time.

Japan beat Korea in the final to earn their first ever Premier12 title.

While Mexico finished third and earned a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games baseball tournament. Mexico had already qualified for the softball tournament of the Olympics meaning both its National Teams will appear in the Olympics for the first time, both in baseball and softball.

"Baseball in our country has accomplished a lot, but nothing of the sort," commented Baseball Federation President Enrique Mayorga. "This is really historic."

The Israel men's baseball team also qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time after winning the Europe/Africa qualifier.

After running tests at the Women's Baseball World Cup 2018 and the U-18 Baseball World Cup 2019, the WBSC implemented key technology innovations for the first time at a major international event with video on the field reviews and game clocks during the Premier12. The video review system allowed each team manager to challenge one call per nine innings of play while the new game clock, included a 20-second clock rule for the pitchers, aimed at speeding up game duration. Immediate results were evident with improved speed of play at the Pan Am Games and the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier.

The WBSC also distributed record prize money of US $ 5,210,000 amongst the National Teams participating in the Premier12 2019, with 50% guaranteed for players. This marks a 40% increase on the inaugural edition.

Meanwhile, the WBSC staged the Men's Softball World Championship for the first time in Europe with the Czech Republic hosting the 16th edition of the premier men’s softball tournament, that saw Argentina earn a historic first Men’s World Championship and became the first-ever Latin American nation to clinch a senior world title, both in men and women’s competitions. The triumph was celebrated on Twitter by the President of Argentina at the time of the event Mauricio Macrì.

Meanwhile, while USA became for the first team to three-peat at the U-19 Softball World Cup, Canada, the number 3 programme according to WBSC Softball World Rankings, earnt their first-ever U-19 Softball World Cup medal after defeating Australia 5-4 in the playoff for bronze.

In April, the first ever WBSC Baseball5 Americas Open was held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. It was the first-ever high-performance Baseball5 official competition hosted by the WBSC, with the participation of five mixed teams from the Americas: Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Cuba defeated 2-0 (12-7, 11-1) Venezuela in the championship series to earn the title.

And in a sure sign of the growing expansion of baseball and softball around the world, Africa had their first-ever continental baseball champions in 2019. The title went to South Africa, the only baseball programme in the continent that had earned WBSC ranking points before.

World number 23 South Africa won the first Baseball Africa Cup and advanced to the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier. South Africa defeated Uganda in the Championship game.

The regional qualifiers to the Baseball Africa Cup were another historic first. Uganda won the Zone East Qualifier to the Baseball Africa Cup outscoring Tanzania and Kenya 35-1. Uganda’s Baseball programme is supported by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

Burkina Faso dominated the Zone West Qualifier with two clear wins against Nigeria, 13-3, and Ghana, 14-4 while South Africa competed with Zimbabwe in the Zone South Qualifier.

These new events in Africa come on the back of the new Africa Development Programme, launched in July, which is aimed at boosting the growth of the game and access to resources in Africa though the development of managerial skills of national federation staff and technical growth of the Federation.

WBSC has also made efforts to promote and boost women’s baseball, launching the first-ever Women’s Baseball Development Programme. The first step of the global programme took place in November in Indonesia with top coaches and WBSC Women’s Baseball Development Commission members from Japan and Australia providing instruction to both players and coaches covering hitting, pitching, base running, infield and outfield.

Another major first included the first ever baseball venue - the Sapphavisa Stadium, in the capital city Vientiane - and professional baseball league competition launched in December in Laos -  which was also welcomed into the WBSC family at the 2019 WBSC Congress as one of seven new WBSC members.