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A Second Consecutive WBC Win but Now is the Time for Sports Diplomacy by Japan

Takeo Hirata
Professor, Graduate School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

The second World Baseball Classic (WBC) excited everyone in Japan. The Japanese team, uniting under coach Hara, withstood the pressure of being the returning champions, and won the championship again. For the record, let me state that their fantastic fight is worthy of great praise.

In spite of the daytime schedule, the Japan team achieved record-high momentary television ratings--45% in their final match against Korea, during which Japan wrapped-up the second consecutive title after extra innings. This demonstrated the wide popularity of baseball in Japan.

In addition, the atmosphere heated up even before the start of the WBC. More than 40,000 fans thronged to visit the "Hara Japan" training camp in Miyazaki every day, and the Tokyo Round games at the Tokyo Dome were completely sold out.

However, I believe that it is time to reconsider the context of the WBC and the future of professional baseball. Three key phrases come to mind in summarizing this year's WBC: "Hosted by the MLB (Major League Baseball)," "The Japan-Korea matches" and "The rapid progress of the Netherlands."

"Hosted by MLB" and "Baseball FIFA"

The first keyword essential in considering the WBC is that it is "hosted by the MLB."

I do not think that the WBC will bea truly international tournament as long as it is hosted solely by the MLB. The MLB-hosted tournament inevitably tends to seek profit and praise only for the MLB. I believe that an organization integrating baseball leagues around the world is necessary for the successful internationalization of baseball. In football (soccer), for example, FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) governs international matches played by national teams; IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) in athletics and FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski) in skiing host the World Cup and other world championships in their respective sports. Baseball also needs a "Baseball FIFA." Perhaps this is one of the reasons why baseball was eliminated from the Olympics. Even though the WBC is hosted by the MLB, the U.S. team included very few leading MLB players. How can we expect to see them playing in the Olympics? The WBC will not become a truly international tournament as long as it remains led by the U.S./p>

If a "Baseball FIFA" is to be established, Japan should take the initiative in doing so, Japan is the leading country, after the U.S., that has both deeply embracedbaseball into its culture and in which baseball has become successful business. Japan is the only country that has the standing to persuade the world and the U.S. to establish an international body for governing international tournaments and it t is time for Japan its exert leadership in "baseball diplomacy."

Japan-Korea matches as the basis of prospective schemes in Asia

Next, I would like to discuss matches between Japan and Korea. Many people might have wondered during the WBC: Korea again? Japan had a surprising five matches against Korea.

The reason why Japan fought Korea five times is the arrangement of the tournament.
Simply put, is due to the consolation rule. Under this rule, any team that lost a game could advance to the next round as long as it was not defeated twice in a row. This could be regarded as a safety net in case powerful countries lose a game in the first or second rounds. It also favors Japan, considering that the Japanese market is large and our TV broadcasting rights fetch a high price. Japan's failure to advance to the final round would also incur a significant loss to the tournament host, the MLB. In other words, the format of this tournament was a sort of guarantee for TV revenues from Japan.

As in football, a serious confrontation between Japan and Korea almost always excites people, and this is wonderful for fans, teams and for business. When I was in charge of match-making as general secretary of the Japan Football Association, I arranged many Japan-Korea matches and established the East Asian Football Championship. One of the reasons I did this was that I wanted to sustain the relationship between these two countries which began when they co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, and because Korean players regard Japan as an "enemy" in earnest.

During this year's WBC, China showed increasingly skillful and powerful play creating the potential for a very contentious regional competition. The stage is set for Japan should take the lead to work out various schemes in Asia, such as an "East Asia Baseball Championship." Such schemes in Asian football are described in a recent book I wrote, entitled "A War Named Football: the Backstage of Diplomatic Negotiation for the Japanese Team" (Sakka to yuu Senso: Nippon Daihyo, Gaiko Kosho no Ura Butai) (http://www.shinchosha.co.jp/book/313831/)

Rapid progress of the Netherlands and the popularity of baseball

Let's move on to the third keyword: "Rapid progress of the Netherlands." The Netherlands team brought about an upset when they defeated the Dominican Republic, one of the favorites for the title, twice in the first round. They also immediately became well known in Japan. These dramatic defeats of a potential champion by a team from a country in which baseball is not very popular helped create the global potential internationalization of baseball. However, it should also be noted that most players on the Netherlands team were from Netherlands Antilles (and many of the Italian representatives were from the U.S.).

Finally, I would like to comment on how to turn this popularity of baseball, rejuvenated up by the WBC, into true professional baseball.

National matches are very exciting and are gaining large audiences, as I have described. The increasing quality of play and the positive business statistics shows that the popularity of baseball per se is not declining at all. However, it should be noted that the WBC does not necessarily lead to greater popularity for professional baseball. The WBC may have had a positive effect on the number of spectators this early spring but without an independent and international organization to foster multilateral competitions the future is uncertain.

The previous WBC win eventually failed to recover the popularity of professional baseball in Japan. Companies have withdrawn from sports, one after another, partly due to the recent recession, and professional baseball is no exception. How should professional baseball be managed amid the adverse economic circumstances and the spur of the WBC win? I look forward to the next step of professional baseball management, not only congratulating the Japanese team on its WBC on its victory but also challenging the Japanese professional baseball world to take the lead and engage in world-wide "sports diplomacy" to truly internationalize the sport.

Takeo Hirata
Professor, Graduate School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Biography

Born in 1960 in Osaka, Prof. Hirata earned the bachelor's degree in business administration from Yokohama National University in 1982 and entered the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (currently the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [METI]) in the same year. In 1988, he received the Master of Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He received his PhD in Engineering from the University of Tokyo in 2008.

While at METI, he assumed various positions, including deputy director of the Service Industry Office of the Industrial Policy Bureau (1989-1991). During the following three years (1991-1994), he was on secondment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served as First Secretary at the Embassy of Japan in Brazil. After returning to Japan, he was in charge of energy policies and engaged in negotiations with Middle Eastern and Caspian countries and became the director of the Oil and Natural Gas Division of the Resources and Energy Agency. Prof. Hirata resigned from the Ministry in 2002 to become the general secretary of the Japan Football Association, a post he filled until his resignation in 2006 to assume his current position at Waseda University.