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19th December 2009
An Interview with new IBAF President Riccardo Fraccarii:
On Sunday in Lausanne, Switzerland, Riccardo Fraccari, President of the Italian Baseball Federation, was elected the 16th president of the International Baseball Federation, the global governing body for the sport of baseball.
President Fraccari is the second Italian to assume the IBAF presidency, following the late Aldo Notari, who was IBAF President from 1993-2007. He will begin his four-year term today.
President Fraccari is one of the key people responsible for baseball’s growth in Europe. His initial work in baseball came as an umpire, learning the game and organizing local, regional and national events for over 30 years. He was eventually voted Italy’s top professional umpire and the top amateur umpire in the world and was inducted into the ABUA Hall of Fame in 2002. As a baseball officer President Fraccari served as vice president of FIBS under President Notari from 1985 to 2000 and as an umpire commissioner in Italy for over 20 years.
The Pisa, Italy, native was also president of the European Confederation Technical Commission and a member of the International Federation Technical Commission.
Italian Baseball has seen its biggest growth period internationally during Fraccari’s run as president, with a growing professional league and increased play for both able bodied and disabled children. He was also a key organizer of the recently completed World Cup, which was played across Europe in September and ended with the United States defeating Cuba for the second consecutive time, this time before a sellout crowd in Nettuno, Italy.
We took a few minutes to conduct a brief Q&A with the new president:
BBD: What are the first things you would like to accomplish in office?
RF: We need to reinvent the structure of our Lausanne office, be more transparent and involve our member federations more on a day-to-day basis. As an international federation we need to be more efficient and professional. I will first learn what the current situation of the office is and will make necessary changes from there.
BBD: What are your feelings on the Olympics?
RF: We need to deeply analyze where we are on the Olympic landscape. We cannot afford to invest money on a campaign to return to the Olympic Programme at this point. What we need to do is to continue to strengthen our sport and federation, which will help prove to the IOC that it needs baseball back.
BBD: There has been a lot of talk with regard to funding. Without government support, where do you think the best possible IBAF revenue streams will come from?
RF: It is critical that we quickly develop new streams of income for the federation. We need the help of professional leagues and in general we need to make our product more attractive and valuable to investors, donors and sponsors. We may need to transform our tournaments, for example, as well as introduce new events, like a World Championship featuring club teams from around the world.
BBD: What do you think the relationship will be with the professional leagues?
RF: This is easy to answer â€“ it is extremely important for us to strengthen our relationship with the world’s professional leagues. To this point, I am planning on offering representatives from some of the top professional leagues a position on our newly-formed Executive Committee. They need us to help continue to develop players worldwide, and we certainly need their support both on and off the field.
BBD: There has been a good deal of talk with regard to developing women’s baseball. Will you continue that growth and will you try and re-open talks with softball about working together?
RF: We will definitely continue to support women’s baseball, from the grassroots level to the Women’s Baseball World Cup. We will also try to convince softball that our only chance to the return to the Olympic Programme is through a combined bid. We need to illustrate to softball’s leaders that it was a mistake for them to call for their member federations to split with baseball.
BBD: Where do you think the biggest growth areas for baseball are?
RF: As evidenced by our bringing the 2009 Baseball World Cup to Europe we believe that the continent is certainly an area with room for significant growth. Looking at Europe’s market, economy and number of interested players, we believe that the opportunity is there.. Africa is another area where we think baseball has a bright future, and we look forward to exploring that and assisting with its efforts.
BBD: What do you think the biggest challenges are?
RF: The biggest challenge, again, is changing the identity of the federation. We need to restructure, cut expenses and grow our income through a strengthened relationship with the world’s professional leagues. We also look forward to continuing the ongoing challenge of growing the game of baseball around the world and helping educate players on our sport at a young age and on a grassroots level
18th December 2009
Riccardo Fraccari of Italy Elected New President of IBAF:
(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) - Riccardo Fraccari of Italy was elected President of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) on Sunday to conclude the Federation’s weekend-long continental meetings and Congress.
Fraccari replaces outgoing President Dr. Harvey W. Schiller who has led the IBAF since taking over mid-term in 2007 for the late Aldo Notari. In thanking the member federations for their support, Fraccari immediately addressed the tasks at hand for the IBAF.
“I want the IBAF to truly be the home of international baseball", said Fraccari. “It is at this point that we need to shape our future - we need to take care of the development of baseball all over the world. This is the only way to truly become a global sport.”
Fraccari was unopposed in his bid for IBAF President and therefore automatically won the election. The recently re-elected 1st Vice President of the European Baseball Confederation (CEB), Fraccari also served as Continental Vice President (Europe) of the IBAF under Schiller.
He said that building upon the IBAF’s relationship with the world’s top professional leagues is among the most important things he will look to accomplish in his new role.
“It is extremely important for us to strengthen our relationship with the world’s professional leagues,” said Fraccari. “They need us to help continue to develop players worldwide, and we certainly need their support both on and off the field.”
Fraccari served as Vice President of Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) under President Notari from 1985 to 2000 and as an Umpire Commissioner in Italy. He was President of the CEB Technical Commission and a member of the IBAF Technical Commission. He was elected President of the Italian Federation on 8 Dec. 2001 and was recently voted into his third term.
New members of the IBAF’s Executive Committee were also elected on Sunday. Among them are Paul Seiler of the United States and Tony Castro - son of Fidel Castro - of Cuba. The 14-person group will be tasked with helping the federation’s membership continue the growth of international baseball from the grassroots level to the sport’s premiere world championships â€“ the World Baseball Classic and the IBAF Baseball World Cup. Fraccari and the Executive Committee will begin a four-year term on Monday.
The elected Executive Committee is as follows:
President - Riccardo Fraccari, ITA
1st Vice President - Kazuhiro Tawa, JPN
2nd Vice President - Alonso Perez Gonzalez, MEX
3rd Vice President - Tony Castro, CUB
Secretary General - Israel Roldan, PUR
Treasurer - Rene Laforce, BEL
1st Member at Large - Paul Seiler, USA
2nd Member at Large - Tom Peng, TPE
3rd Member at Large - Luis Melero, ESP
These members are in addition to the IBAF’s Continental Vice Presidents (Presidents of continental federations), each of whom sit on the federation’s Executive Committee as well. These members include: Africa - Ishola Williams, NGR; Americas - Eduardo De Bello, PAN; Asia - Seung-Kyoo Kang, KOR; Europe - Martin Miller, GER; and Oceania - John Ostermeyer, AUS.
Over the last two years Dr. Schiller spearheaded the IBAF’s bid to return to the Olympic Programme in 2016 and oversaw a baseball competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games that witnessed record crowds and spurred interest in the sport throughout the country. Dr. Schiller’s time with the IBAF was also highlighted by the introduction of Baseball World Rankings for both men and women, the birth of an International Women’s Baseball Committee and the first-ever Women’s Continental Championship in Venezuela, an improved online presence with the introduction of IBAF.org, the IBAF becoming fully WADA-compliant, numerous new baseball federations worldwide, and most recently, the first ever IBAF Baseball World Cup to be held in multiple countries throughout Europe (seven countries in total) which featured the most competing nations (22) in the tournament’s history as well.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my two years as President and leave the position knowing that the best years are yet to come for baseball, and I look forward as a fan and supporter to assisting in any way possible” said Schiller addressing the Congress.
“Personally I want to thank all of you whom I have come in contact with for all your help and good wishes. Baseball is the ultimate team game, and we would not be successful in our efforts at any level if our whole team was not working toward one goal - growing the game.”
Also announced at the Congress was the naming of the federation’s top Senior Athlete, Junior Athlete, Coach, Umpire and Member Federation Executive. The awards had been presented on an annual basis until 2004 and have not been awarded since. The 2009 awards recognize achievements over the last two years, which is a period of time that allows the federation to consider athletes from at least one of its two professional events - the Baseball World Cup and World Baseball Classic, both of which are competed in every-four-years cycles - and both of its junior events - the 18U World Junior Championships and the 16U World Youth Championships, which are competed in alternating every-other-year cycle.
The recipients of the awards and a brief summary of their achievements are as follows:
Senior Athlete - Justin Smoak (Triple-A Oklahoma City, MILB)
Junior Athlete - Yung-Hoon Sung (Doosan Bears, KBO)
Coach - Tatsunori Hara (Yomiuri Giants, NPB)
Umpire - Paul Hyham ( Australia)
Member Federation Executive - Juergen Elsishans (German Federation)
“The IBAF congratulates each of our award winners and the member federations which they represent” said Schiller. “International baseball has witnessed extraordinary achievements over the past two years, and we look forward to future success stories in the years to come”
17th December 2009
Q&A with outgoing IBAF President Dr. Harvey Schiller:
Q: You have had a two-year run as IBAF President. How would you describe your experience?
A: I think it was terrific and rewarding. I had been out of the international sports community for a while and was glad to be able to use my contacts to help grow the game and bring new partners into the sport. The progress we made to unify various entities within the sport, the progress we made with anti-doping initiatives, the Beijing Olympics, the World Baseball Classic and the Baseball World Cup were all very gratifying. It was also very impressive to see the passion that so many around the world have for the sport, whether it is at the federation or volunteer level or at the highest professional level. It is truly a global game and a sport for all.
The biggest disappointment was the Olympic re-instatement bid, but even in that process I think we learned a great deal about how to grow the sport even without the Olympics. The Olympics may not want baseball, but baseball will always embody the Olympic ideal.
Q: Why did you choose not to run again?
A: I felt it is time to do something different. We made a great deal of progress in two very short years and I would like to stay involved, but the time commitment was pulling me away from other duties. Many people don’t realize it is a volunteer position with fulltime hours. I don’t regret a minute, but it is time to move on and help in other ways than as president.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?
A: I think with regard to the Olympics the approach we took was the right one. We did not waste money on consultants as other sports did, we spent money and time to grow the game and build awareness. I think the fact the President Rogge took the voting out of the hands of the delegates and into the hands of the Executive Committee changed everything, so perhaps making a longer and stronger push amongst the delegates to get the process changed would have helped, but all indications are the die was cast. The co-operation of MLB and the Player’s Association with regard to top players was outstanding. They paid all costs and as a result almost no money from IBAF was used for the President’s office or expenses or the Olympic programme.
Q: Do you think the governance of the sport today is in a better shape than it was when you came on board?
A: I do think so yes. The relationships with all the various governing entities in the sport, from MLB and the Japanese League to Little League and the Federations, are vastly improved and that is a tribute to our staff. I also believe the whole Olympic process gave baseball the opportunity to create healthy dialogue with many countries where the sport is now growing, and that sets the table for a brighter future.
Q: One of the biggest issues remains steroids. How do you think baseball is addressing the issue?
A: I do not think baseball, whether it is the IBAF or MLB or the Player’s Union, gets enough credit for the leadership position the sport has taken with regard to anti-doping. Baseball has more in competition tests than any sport, has had very few positive tests of any kind in international competition, and is working very hard to continue to police itself. We are fully WADA compliant, and the fact that players do get caught is a sign that the system is working. The sport is as clean today as it has ever been and is cleaner than most if not all other sports. I think in time the facts will show that the steps baseball has taken will be landmark, and will set the standard for all international sports going forward.
Q: Do you think the failure to return baseball to the Olympics was an anti-American statement by the IOC?
A: I think if that is true it is very shortsighted, given the fact that baseball is the national pastime of many countries outside of the United States, and is now the largest sport in the world not on the Olympic programme. Our plan effectively addressed all the issues that were presented to us as to why baseball was removed from the Olympic programme, and as a result the game is stronger not just in the United States, but in places where is it now just taking hold. We are probably a victim of our own success more than anything. The IOC felt they wanted two new sports for the programme in rugby sevens and golf, and that’s what they pushed through to the membership.
Q: Should baseball try again for 2020?
A: My recommendation is no. If the Olympic movement wanted baseball it would have brought the sport back for 2016. The cost associated with pushing for re-instatement again pulls monies away from developing the game, and in a challenged economy that is not a smart thing to do. We should continue to grow our international events and find new business partners, and if the Olympic movement would like us back we will be open to that. However pursuing the Olympics again I believe is a waste. The ultimate decision however will be up to the new board and the new president.
Q: What are the biggest challenges the new president will face?
A: I think finding funding in those countries whose federations are run by government monies tied to the Olympics will be the biggest challenge. Baseball in established countries will continue to grow, the biggest challenge will be helping those smaller countries where the sport is just taking root to get the funds necessary to grow grassroots programs. The relationships with the Major Leagues also has to continue to develop and stay positive. Many forget that the World Baseball Classic contributed $15 million (USD) to the IBAF and its federations for development of the game, and MLB completely funded our Olympic effort as well. That relationship has to stay healthy, and we need to continue to move forward with relationships with the professional leagues in Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei as well.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities the new president will have?
A: One of the biggest surprises for me in the last few months was the interest at the grassroots level for women’s and girls baseball. There are thousands of young women who play the game and then switch to softball or other sports in their teens because of lack of opportunity. That I think is a big growth area. I also think that the professionals now see that representing their country is much more important to them than they ever thought possible, so growing a top tier international event like the WBC is very important for the development of the game.
Q: Do you think baseball at the professional level and at the grassroots level can work effectively together?
A: Yes and I think we have proved that the relationship between the two, which some people saw as mutually exclusive, is very beneficial to all. If you look at other sports - basketball for example, and see how the NBA works with all the grassroots organizations around the world to grow the game - you see a healthy working relationship. That is what we have started with baseball and should continue. The IBAF can be a very strong conduit for the professional leagues to grow the game in emerging countries, and that grows MLB’s fan base. Our efforts have provided grassroots support around the globe, and have included the help of local and federal governments, organizations like Ripken Baseball, and many former players who are now more involved with the growth of the game than ever before. All very positive to show how one side benefits the other
Q: Will you stay involved in baseball?
A: I have told everyone I would like to help in any way. This past summer I was asked to join the board of the Baseball Hall of Fame, so that will also keep me involved as well on some level. I admit I was a fan of baseball before this process, but now I really see the value of the game at all levels as a social unifier and a game for all, and it was very frustrating to me that the IOC did not see that value that so many others see. Therefore anything I can do to help grow that global presence I will do.
Q: What do you see for the future of baseball?
A: I think it is very bright. The growth in emerging nations and across Europe at the grassroots level has to be cultivated, as that will build a new fanbase. The partnership with MLB and the NPB has to continue to evolve, and the ability to be a unifier for all the groups involved in the game, from the manufacturers to the various bodies that run the sport at every level from Teeball on up, has to continue. In one of the worst economic years on record, baseball grew in exposure and stayed on par with revenue, and that says a great deal about where the sport sits on a global basis. We must continue to tell the story of baseball to its ardent fans and its recent and potential converts, and if we continue to do that the game will grow around the world
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