Posted 7/8/2005 12:20 AM Updated 7/8/2005 5:43 AM
Baseball, softball bumped from Olympics
By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY
SINGAPORE — Baseball and softball are out of the Olympics as of 2012, in a vote that surprised even longtime International Olympic Committee members.
"There were a lot of people that said they supported us and obviously didn't," said Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation.
Baseball joined the Olympics in 1992 and softball in 1996. (Related item: Major leaguers upset)
Friday's secret vote reflected a heavy European influence of the IOC, which claims a near majority of European members. The popularity of baseball and softball are limited primarily to the Americas, Canada and Asia. Both sports were founded in the U.S.
Baseball also suffers from its failure to reach an agreement with Major League Baseball that would send the top players to the Olympics. "The problem is not only one problem," said Aldo Notari, head of the International Baseball Federation. "The problem is we need further development in the world."
Porter, who said he was devastated, has been concerned all along that members linked baseball and softball too closely.
The other 26 sports were retained.
"I think they've made a big, big mistake," said Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager who managed the U.S. to its only gold medal, at the Sydney Games in 2000.
"Baseball is played by all countries now and softball, too. I think that's really going to hurt the Olympics. I don't want to knock the other sports, but I think this is a big mistake. I am very disappointed.
"I was fortunate enough to coach the U.S. Olympic team in Australia. The parks were full at all times. How can they take away a sport like that?"
Baseball became a medal sport in 1992, with the U.S. finishing out of the money. Four years later, the Americans won a bronze medal before Lasorda's team won it all in 2000. Last year, the U.S. never got out of regional qualifying as Canada and Cuba represented North America in Athens.
Softball, on the other hand, has been the USA's property since it hit the Olympic calendar in 1996. American women have won all three available gold medals and their 2004 victory capped a 79-game winning streak in international play.
The IOC will consider replacing them with two sports from a waiting list of five: Golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports. That decision will be made Saturday.
Baseball and softball, which will remain on the program for the 2008 Beijing Games, are the first sports cut from the Olympics since polo in 1936.
"Needless to say, these sports are very, very disappointed," IOC president Jacques Rogge said after announcing the result. "However, I have to emphasize the fact that they should not fear this purge. The fact is that they shall not be included in the program of the 2012 Olympic Games, but it does not disqualify them forever as Olympic sports."
Rogge said baseball and softball will be eligible to win back their place in future Games.
"I would like to invite the leaders of these sports that will not be included in the program to make their very best efforts during the coming years so as to be able to convince the session that they deserve to come back to the Olympic Games in 2016. We shall support them in their efforts."
Major League Baseball and the players' union plan to launch on Monday the Baseball Classic, a 16-nation tournament that will begin in March and feature players on big league rosters.
Notari was disappointed yet optimistic.
"Baseball is still in Beijing and it is still necessary to work for the future in 2016."
Porter said the decision goes back to Mexico City in 2002 when Rogge tried — but failed — to get baseball, softball and modern pentathlon removed.
"They wanted us out," Porter said. "They didn't get us out — it took them three years and now they got us out. I just think the IOC wanted some opportunity to introduce several new sports ... and in order to do that, they had to remove a couple of sports and that's what they did today."
"I don't want to say it's an anti-U.S. thing, but they are two native American sports," Porter said.
He noted that modern pentathlon, which has been on the program since the first modern games in 1896, had tradition and European support on its side.
"Europe has strong voting power in the IOC," Porter said. "They worked hard, they did the right thing to get enough to stay in."
Removal from the program can be crippling for smaller sports federations, which rely heavily on Olympic revenues for survival.
Before the vote, the head of the international federations described the existing program as a "delicate instrument" and "magical combination" which shouldn't be changed.
"Once you take one piece out to put another piece in, you don't know what the consequences will be," said Denis Oswald, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. "Don't change a winning team."
The IOC will keep the voting figures secret. Not even the IOC members or sports federations will learn the totals. The secrecy was requested by the international federations in order to avoid any ranking or embarrassment for any sports which just barely make the cut.
Rogge said the figures will be seen only by an independent official, who will send the results by sealed envelope to an IOC notary in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rogge will only open the envelope in the case of a voting dispute.
"Not all sports are indispensable for the Olympic program, we know that," Rogge told the delegates before the vote.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound of Canada harshly criticized the secrecy, saying it undermined the IOC's moves for openness. He said it was in the interests of the sports federations themselves to know how they stand.
"What kind of message does the IOC send when there is complete secrecy on an issue that is important to the world?" Pound said.
But Rogge said the IOC executive board had accepted the request by the federations, who fear a low vote total would hurt them in finding sponsorship and television contracts.
"Whether we agree or not, if this is the unanimous position of the 28 international federations, we have to respect that," Rogge said.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Bob Kimball, USATODAY.com
Big leaguers respond
Arizona third baseman Troy Glaus, who played on the 1996 U.S. team:
"That's a shame. 'Baseball is one of the more global sports. There's not too many countries around who don't play it at some level."
Seattle pitcher Ryan Franklin, who won three games for the U.S. in 2000:
"It's our national pastime, so it' sad to see. There's a lot of guys up here who would like to represent their country by playing baseball. It was a great experience, and probably one of the reasons why I was able to get to the big leagues and stay."
By The Associated Press