In a stunning rebuke to a sport deemed “too American” by many Europeans, the International Olympic Committee voted to uphold a decision made last summer to cut baseball and softball from London’s 2012 Olympic games.
Four years ago, IOC Jacques Rogge of Belgium announced his intentions to cut the two sports from the Olympic slate. As Major Leaguers are not permitted to participate in the Olympic games, Baseball, Rogge and his allies claimed, could not guarantee the highest quality athletes for the sport. Thus, the sport was undeserving of an Olympic spot. The panel had no similar justification for dropping softball.
With another vote scheduled for yesterday, many of the two sports’ proponents believed the panel would overturn the 2005 decision. However, the vote fell just short. While a plurality of voters opted to allow baseball and softball back in the games, neither sport could muster the 51 percent majority needed to ensure inclusion in London.
Across the baseball and softball worlds, the news was met with dismay. “I am shocked and deeply disappointed,” Dot Richardson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in softball, said to the Associated Press. “It’s a shame that politics between nations will affect in a negative way the future dreams of young girls and young women.”
Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, expressed similar sentiments. “In my judgment, the reason why the vote wasn’t taken is that baseball and softball are not European sports,” Fehr said in an interview with MLB.com reporter Barry Bloom. “The Olympics are Eurocentric and Euro-dominated, and they want to bring in other sports. I don’t think it’s much more complex than that. I never have
Fehr and Richardson both touched on the same point: This decision came to down to international relations and America’s international standing. Currently, the United States’ reputation has taken a hit among Europeans. Our aggressive foreign policy has not won over many supporters in European nations, and this decision concerning the fate of sports deemed American-centric is a slap in the face to Americans.
I believe this decision came to down a bunch of European delegates knowing their nations were not baseball-focused. So at the expense of numerous other countries, these delegates penalized the Americans. It is a short-sighted and petty attempt at retribution.
Currently, baseball and softball are hardly American-centric. The World Baseball Classic proves this much. Baseball is second in popularity only to soccer in nearly every Central American and Caribbean nation. Baseball is just as popular in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea as it is in the United States. Even Australia, thousands of miles away from baseball’s supposed birthplace in Cooperstown, New York, has a vibrant baseball league. Clearly, this is a game with international appeal.
Furthermore, I believe the Olympic Committee is not too thrilled about the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Doesn’t an event such as this overshadow Olympic baseball? The game’s best athletes from Major Leaguers on down are participating in this event. While prominent players keep dropping out, the USA team playing in the World Baseball Classic is already better than the Olympic teams from the past few summer Olympics.
If the Olympic Committee wants to cut baseball for being too Americanized, I am sure I could find a few more sports worth eliminating. How about hockey? That’s too Eastern European. Hockey, one of the cornerstones of the Winter Games, hardly enjoys the same appeal as baseball. I don’t see a Dominican hockey team. Panama? No hockey team.
But hey! Germany, Sweden, Russia, and Italy all have hockey teams. In fact, the only two countries from the Western hemisphere with hockey teams are the U.S. and Canada. This is hardly a sport that transcends the globe. And does anyone even play curling?
So now with baseball and softball out as Olympic Sports, baseball can rebound through the World Baseball Classic. I have long been opposed to the WBC on purely logistical grounds. I think it disrupts Spring Training and puts players not yet ready for competitive play at a greater risk of injury.
But now, baseball should exploit the World Baseball Classic. This is the sport’s chance to thrive on the international stage. Show the world and the IOC that baseball is compelling and that baseball has a huge international following.
In fact, I have an idea that could very accomplish this task while overshadowing the Olympics. While the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will feature baseball, in 2012, if Major League Baseball has deemed the World Baseball Classic a success, they should stop the season for a few weeks around the All Star break and showcase the Classic. Upstage the Olympics at around the same time.
When people watch more of the World Baseball Classic than of the fairly boring Summer Olympics, maybe then the IOC will be willing to put petty politics in the past and come crawling back to baseball.