IOC drops the ball on decision to oust baseball, softball from 2012 Games

By Dave Fultz

With Sunday’s closing ceremonies capping off the 2008 Beijing Olympics, fans can now look forward to the 2012 Games in London.

Most have had their fill of watching televised events like table tennis prelims, synchronized diving and indoor volleyball matches and won’t yearn for their return until four years from now when Olympic fever hits again. But there are two sports that won’t return with all the rest when London gears up to host the Olympics.

While ratings duds handball, field hockey and sailing get to stick around, baseball and softball are getting ousted from the next Olympiad in a seemingly political decision that will rob two great games of exposure on the world stage.

I certainly enjoyed getting lost in the endless Beijing coverage as much as the next guy, and I’m not writing this column to disparage events like table tennis or beach volleyball. But it is just plain ridiculous that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could argue that baseball or softball are any less deserving of a spot in the 2012 Games than any other sport.

IOC President Jacques Rogge has been accused of having a pro-European, anti-American bias on the issue and many have come down on him for it.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

While baseball still has the second World Baseball Classic (WBC) to look forward to, softball’s athletes and supporters will no longer have the help of a major international event to help spread the popularity of their game. “Rogge has basically conspired against the sports to get them removed,” American pitcher Lisa Fernandez said in an NBC Sports report. “I feel one person, the president of the IOC, a person from Europe, has taken it upon himself to ruin the lives of millions, actually billions of women.”

If softball doesn’t get reinstated in time for the 2016 Olympics, its presence outside of the United States will suffer greatly.

Baseball, on the other hand, is a game that has been flourishing on a global level for some time and will be bolstered even further by the next WBC. No longer just America’s “National Pastime,” baseball is spreading rapidly, but that won’t save it from Olympic elimination.

If the IOC tries to contend that baseball isn’t popular enough, then they are just flat wrong. Behind football – and yes, by football I mean soccer – and basketball, baseball is quite possibly the third most widespread sport on a global level.

South Korea and Cuba were shining examples of baseball’s growing international acumen in Beijing this year, as they took home the gold and silver ahead of Team USA’s bronze medal effort.

The rosters of Major League Baseball’s teams are littered with players from Central and South America, as well as Asia. The game has enjoyed massive popularity in Asia and Latin America for more than a quarter century and is still growing rapidly.

But the primary problem with baseball and the Olympics isn’t popularity, it’s bad timing. Because the MLB regular season is in full-swing during the August stretch the Games occupy, big league players aren’t involved.

The lack of players with name recognition has not led to other sports being evicted from the Olympic spotlight, but in baseball’s case it seems to be the sticking point among IOC members.

Despite the ouster from the Olympics, baseball’s international influence will again come to the fore in March 2009 when the WBC returns for its second showing after a wildly successful inaugural tournament in 2006.

The national teams were all filled to the brim with big leaguers as the MLB created WBC, the first baseball tournament in which each national team’s roster was made up of professional players. Because the WBC is contested during Spring Training rather than the regular season, clubs can allow their players to compete.

MLB Player’s Association head Don Fehr hit the nail on the head with this comment after the ruling came down.

“You can’t shut down Major League Baseball, you just can’t do it, and nobody can reasonably expect us to,” Fehr said. “Baseball will go on just fine. It’s never depended in any way, shape or form even slightly on the Olympics.”

It’s not often that I agree with Fehr on anything, but he’s right. Good riddance to the IOC and the Olympics, baseball will go on just fine without them.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].