For 2012 Games, baseball, softball are called out by IOC

Olympics: The two sports, dominated by Americans, are voted for elimination after the 2008 Beijing Games.


July 09, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Two days after losing the vote to play host to the 2012 Summer Games, U.S. Olympic leaders learned that the national pastime won't be played in London.

In a move some interpreted as a slap at the United States and contrary to the philosophy of inclusiveness espoused by the International Olympic Committee, delegates in Singapore voted yesterday to drop baseball and softball from competition after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

"I don't want to say it's an anti-U.S. thing, but they are two native American sports," said a shocked Don Porter, the American who heads the International Softball Federation.

IOC member Bob Ctvrtlik of California was more direct: "I think the United States is the big loser. We had a really solid bid but didn't garner support. We are a proponent of women's sports, and a women's sport was voted out. And baseball is our national pastime."

On Wednesday, New York was the second city among the five candidates eliminated by the IOC in a vote to select the organizer for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The results of the voting on the sports reinforced the perception of anti-U.S. bias within the IOC, leading Ctvrtlik to suggest that the United States needs to do a better job of selling its positions internationally.

The two sports are the first to be eliminated from the Olympics since polo in 1936. Twenty-six other sports survived by securing simple majority votes. The vote totals were kept secret.

"It's a big hit," said three-time Olympic gold medal pitcher Lisa Fernandez of the United States. "You're turning away the dreams of millions of kids."

Tom Lasorda, manager of the gold medal 2000 U.S. baseball team, called the decision "crazy."

"I think they've made a big, big mistake," said Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager. "Baseball is played by all countries now, and softball, too. I think that's really going to hurt the Olympics."

Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff, who played on the 1984 U.S. team that was second, also was not pleased.

"It has meant a tremendous amount to all of us that have gotten the chance to play on U.S. teams," Surhoff said. "There are a lot of other tournaments, but none more bigger in the eyes of the world than the Olympics."

Orioles reliever Todd Williams was on the 2000 gold medal team.

"It was an unbelievable experience," Williams said. "It actually gave me more of an opportunity during the years I was in Triple-A, not getting called up, to have something to look forward to. The competition is more intense than I've been in."

None of the five sports on a waiting list - golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports - was chosen by the IOC to fill the two slots, although karate and squash were nominated.

"Nobody was happy with the outcome in the morning, nobody was happy with the result of the afternoon," said Dick Pound, senior Canadian member. "And we've lost two sports and done nothing to replace them."

When IOC president Jacques Rogge took office in 2001, he vowed to make the European-centric Olympics more inclusive while also trimming the size and expense of the Summer Games.

The next year, the IOC's program commission recommended eliminating softball, baseball and modern pentathlon, saying they lacked worldwide participation and television appeal. Although the IOC rejected the recommendation at its meeting in Mexico City, it required each international sports federation to submit a report last November making the case to remain part of the Olympics.

In subtracting softball and baseball, the IOC chose a women-only sport and another that is embraced in Asia and Central America.

"This really hurts Japan," Japan Olympic Committee secretary general Tsutomu Hayashi said. "Baseball and softball are both team sports that draw a lot of excitement and are the only ones that medals are a virtual certainty."

Dr. Dot Richardson, a two-time gold medalist with the U.S. softball team and an NBC commentator, was critical of the choices.

"They eliminated softball, but kept modern pentathlon? Not to be disrespectful of another sport, but how many countries watch and participate in modern pentathlon?" she said. "Softball is played in 120 countries by people of all ages, shapes and sizes."

For both softball and baseball, the rumblings of serious trouble that began in 2002 got louder at the 2004 Athens Games.

Baseball, an Olympic sport since 1992, came under attack because of steroid abuse in the United States and the lack of participation of major league players.

"Problems with doping in U.S. baseball probably cost the sport dearly," said Australian IOC member John Coates. "Softball was a bigger shock especially with the push within the IOC to further increase women's participation in the Olympics."

For softball, it was too much of a good thing. The U.S. team, which won the gold medal in 1996 - the first year of Olympic competition - and in 2000, tore through opponents in Athens without breaking a sweat.

On its way to a third gold medal, the team had a batting average of .343 and an ERA of 0.13. But instead of reveling in their victory, players and team officials had to defend the juggernaut they had created.

"I'd hate to see us penalized for doing our part and raising the bar of excellence," said coach Mike Candrea at a post-victory news conference.

Richardson says softball officials must move quickly to restore their Olympic standing and bolster the sport's image.

"We need to ask why. Do we need to change the game? Do we need to reach out to Europe? Softball needs to come back with a professional level. It needs to get going," she said. "Maybe this vote is a good way to get things started."

Sun staff writer Jeff Zrebiec, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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