Baseball and Softball’s Olympic hopes are dashed

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board announced yesterday that golf and rugby would be put forward for entry to the 2016 Olympics.  The decision ended baseball and softball’s hopes for an immediate return to the Olympic fold after a previous decision in 2005 removed the sports from the 2012 London Games. 

While supporters of the bid tried to remain optimistic, most baseball fans had little confidence in the IOC’s willingness to listen to the sport’s argument, despite the best efforts of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF).  Yesterday’s events lend credence to the belief that baseball never really stood a chance. 

The IOC made vague statements about golf and rugby being sports that stress fair play and respect for the Olympic values, but it’s obvious that their commercial potential was what won the day.  Like everything else, the Olympics is now guided by money rather than genuine sporting interests. 

Rugby is a great sport and can certainly use their new-found Olympic status to expand into many new territories.  The rugby sevens format gave them a clear advantage over their fellow bidders.  Few will care that the Rugby Sevens World Cup is being scrapped as a consequence of its inclusion in the Olympics and they can market it as a unique event.  I would strongly refute the claim that rugby currently has more global appeal than baseball though, even if that might be hard for many Brits to believe.  No doubt both sides could produce statistics to back their position, so we’ll leave that as a disputed point. 

As for golf, most people without a vested interest in their Olympic inclusion would agree their selection is a total joke.  Just like football and tennis, it is a sport that already has a well-developed professional world circuit.  There is no valid reason for them to be Olympic sports, other than the fact that their popularity will bring in the punters and make the IOC money.  The Olympics should be about much more than that.  Local baseball, karate, roller sports, softball and squash projects will continue to have severe difficulties in obtaining relatively meagre funding as non-Olympic sports, while golf will get the financial boost.  That’s tough to take, particularly as the sport was nearly eliminated in the first round of voting.

Politics were always going to play a big part in this decision and golf’s later round renaissance looks pretty suspicious.  The IBAF were gracious in defeat, congratulating the winning sports and praising the efforts of the other four bidders (karate, roller sports, softball and squash).  However, their President Harvey Schiller couldn’t hold in feelings of disappointment at the process:

“According to some of the voters, many were informed not to push for Baseball. The programme commission supported rugby and golf to be added. We never did get all the votes we thought would come. Why? I really don’t know except for the probability that the IOC leadership wanted new sports”.

The simple fact that baseball and softball were kicked out of the Olympics didn’t give you much confidence that the IOC would be predisposed to taking them back.  That’s been proved by this selection process.  The IBAF addressed many of the issues in their bid that the IOC had claimed were behind their original decision, such as the lack of involvement of Major League players and MLB’s previous lack of an effective drug-testing programme.  That didn’t make a difference, supporting the view that the IOC simply used those factors as an excuse to remove the sport in the first place.

The IBAF were fighting a hopeless battle.  The only criticism you could make of their bid is that it was weakened by the inclusion of women’s baseball, rather than using the previous combination of men’s baseball and women’s softball.  However that wasn’t the IBAF’s fault.  The International Softball Federation decided to go it alone and refused to change their mind even when the IBAF appealed to them late in the process. 

As neither sport made it, you could say that the ISF’s decision was wrong.  Having said that, if golf had somehow been knocked out in that first round then softball may have been the sport to have picked up the second spot.  You can certainly see the benefits to softball of being an Olympic sport completely in its own right.  At the very least it would have allowed men’s fastpitch softball teams to dream of an Olympic appearance. 

From a general standpoint, having one sport in and one sport out could have caused many problems.  In countries where both sports are developing, working together gives them the best chance to move forward.  It’s difficult to know quite how the work of a body like BaseballSoftballUK would have been affected if only one sport had made it, but it might not have been a positive development.

That’s a potential problem that we will not now face.  Yesterday’s decision now means we can all move on and plan the best way for both sports to progress outside of the Olympic framework. 

MLB have been quick to extol the virtues of the World Baseball Classic, claiming that they “will work hard to make it even bigger and better in 2013 and beyond”.  Yet while the WBC is a great event and undoubtedly can help to promote the sport, it doesn’t carry anywhere near the prestige or level of opportunities afforded by the Olympics for developing baseball nations.

Bob Fromer’s passionate article about the recent achievements of GB national teams despite limited funding makes that abundantly clear.  He has predicted that “fastpitch softball will struggle to survive in the UK and in many other nations around the world”, although he also believes that “there is no reason why slowpitch softball cannot continue to grow and prosper in Britain”.

From the British Baseball Federation’s perspective, Secretary John Walmsley has lamented the decision but spoke of the work they will continue to undertake to grow the sport in the UK:

“British Baseball will continue working to develop and strengthen the sport domestically, especially at youth levels in schools and in universities, as well as within existing baseball clubs. We are working with organisations such as Little League to improve access to the sport for children and we are building durable relationships with the International and European baseball federations. The future bodes well for baseball in Britain, although re-inclusion in the Olympics would have further strengthened that position”.

Walmsley’s comments are a good point on which to end.  Yes, the IOC’s decision is disappointing and will have repercussions, but baseball and softball’s qualities remain undiminished.  The fact that the IOC never truly appreciated them, and still doesn’t today, does make you think that maybe, just maybe, the sports’ futures could end up being brighter without half-hearted Olympic support.

4 Responses to Baseball and Softball’s Olympic hopes are dashed

  1. Joe Cooter August 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    This is sad.

    I have to agree baseball would have made a better chioce than golf. Golf doesn’t need the Olympics. Rugby on the other hand probably does, but I don’t see how they can physically play that many games in a short amount of time. Rugby and it’s sister sport American Football are physically demanding games that require a weeks rest in between games. Baseball on the other hand could use the exposure that the olympics provide.

    With that having been said, the Olympics have included many “sports” that are by no means sports and should be in the Olympics. One example that come to mind emediately is Synconized Swimming. I understand the athletic ability involved in doing this, but it isn’t a sport. You’re not competing against an oponent. Synconized Swimming is nothing more than underwater ballet. I am including a clip from Saturday Night Live that aired 25 years ago: http://video.aol.com/video-detail/mens-synchronized-swimming/1980340333

    Other sports that the Olympics should consider eliminating would include Boxing, Gymnastics, and Rythmic Gymnastics. Rythmic Gymnastics should be eliminated for the same reasons that Synconized Swimming should be eliminated: it is simply not a sport. Gymnastics and Boxing should go because they both have become corrupt. How many times have their been judging scandels in the Olympic Boxing Tournament. Don’t even get me started on how the Chinese Women Cheated last year by using underage gymnasts. Both Sports have proven that they are far to corrupt to beconsidered for future OLympic Games.

    I would like to see Baseball be given a fair shot, and I wuold also like to see Cricket in the games too. Both Sports would provide diversity that the games sorely need.

  2. peter August 14, 2009 at 7:28 pm #

    the olympics are a joke why is rugby and now golf in it

  3. Joe Cooter August 14, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Interesting article from the Miami Herald http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/baseball/wires/story/1184562.html

    I disagree with the two poeple who commented, as they are out and out snobs. I think baseball will march on with or with out the Olympics. Remember these people voted in Snowboarding and extreme sports into the games.

  4. Tim August 15, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    Perhaps baseball as a whole doesn’t need the Olympics – at least in nations where the sport is established. Certainly, it’s my opinion that MLB only paid lip service to getting baseball back in the Olympics – they have their own high-profile tournament for national teams and an Olympic baseball competition would only mean they might be coerced into allowing Major Leaguers leave from their club during the season which MLB (and its clubs) don’t want to do.

    But it does reduce the opportunities for baseball (and softball) to gain exposure with spectators, TV viewers and countries where the sports don’t have much market but might tune into it through the Olympic window.

    And from a British point-of-view it obviously means there is little prospect for ‘elite’-level funding from now on. This means the Great Britain programmes continuing to operate on miniscule budgets and not being able to offer the best-possible development pathway for home-grown players.

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