Sports column: IOC would be smart to play ball
June 15, 2009
The International Olympic Committee, in all of its infinite wisdom, dropped baseball and softball like a bad habit for the 2012 Summer Games in London.
The Europeans at the IOC probably made a wise move, given the fact baseball and softball are major fan favorites in only about half of the world, enjoyed by fringe Olympic nations like the United States, Japan and Cuba.
But now, the sports are lobbying to get back into the games, where they ought to be.
The soccer-heads at the IOC will tell you they dropped the bats-and-balls for both genders because of their narrow appeal and the notion the best players in the world do not come to the Olympics, which is a half lie and a major slight to softball.
We only get a good look at our softball players and#8212; skilled, committed female athletes like Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman and#8212; in Olympic competition. Thereand#8217;s no outlet for a sport enjoyed by millions of daughters in this country and others around the world to showcase elite, televised competition. To lump the two together is preposterous; baseball was around when the modern Olympics were still in diapers and isnand#8217;t going away anytime soon.
But, softball is a true Olympic competition, and needs the Olympics for exposure. There were few more compelling team sport moments than in last Augustand#8217;s softball finals when the U.S. went toe-to-toe with rival Japan and lost out on a chance for their fourth straight gold medal by a count of 3-1.
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To deny softball is to punish it simply for its outward similarity to big brother baseball, an unfair comparison to one of this worldand#8217;s most popular and growing sports.
Discluding baseball, though, doesnand#8217;t make much sense either. Played in nearly every country along the Pacific Rim and throughout North America and Latin America, baseball is becoming as global as basketball, trailing only soccer for worldwide appeal.
To cover for the fact European nations cannot and have never competed in baseball (No European nation has advanced to the gameand#8217;s finals in the sportand#8217;s five appearances since 1992), and that its inclusion in London would mean another Japan-, Cuba- and U.S.-dominated field, the IOC simply axed the sport.
Cast a critical eye to the fact sports with significantly less global appeal and#8212; sailing, taekwondo, water polo, team handball and badminton and#8212; persist at the games, most appealing to a very, very narrow number of nations.
Why doesnand#8217;t President (and Euro) Jacques Rogge look to ax handball and#8212; a sport that has only ever seen European gold medalists and has only once seen one medalist from outside of the continent?
The fact is their attitude toward these niche regional sports renders any and#8220;narrow appealand#8221; argument against baseball moot.
The IOC will then tell you baseball doesnand#8217;t allow its best players in the game and doesnand#8217;t give and take with the Olympics. The point is fairly valid, but could lack holes shortly.
A group representing international baseball and including representation from MLB is in Switzerland this week to lobby for baseball to go back on the menu for 2016. Given the fact two of the finalist cities are Chicago and Tokyo, the IOC would be wise to show their favor.
According to reports, MLB promised to assist international baseball in marketing their players, blacking out big league games that interfere with the Olympic baseball schedule and not playing games on the day of the gold medal game. Finally and#8212; and to punch a hole in the IOCand#8217;s argument and#8212; comes the kicker, the proposal will allow for MLB players to participate in the five-day, eight-team tournament.
Whether any of them will is another story, as elite players have shown reticence to participate in the World Baseball Classicand#8217;s first two international tournaments. But, the offer stands, and if the IOC wants the best baseball players in the world, they can technically have them.
To turn the offer away is foolish, a sure sign of the Eurocentrism at the IOC. The Olympics gets star players for Visa and McDonaldand#8217;s to market around what will possibly be a baseball-crazed city. In return, baseball and#8212; more importantly, softball and#8212; gets to return to the world stage.
Kyle Magin is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.