The International Olympic Committee possesses pretty much absolute power to run the Olympics any way the committee members see fit. Of course, power corrupts, and absolute power potentially corrupts absolutely. Such philosophical generalities and supposition mean nothing without legitimate issue worth debating. Unfortunately for baseball and softball fans, the IOC has provided exactly the issue needed, and it did so with the rationale of an overtired parent falling back on the tried and true “because I said so” explanation.
IOC emperor, Jacques Rogge, explained the IOC decision with all the sincerity someone with a forked tongue can muster that “blah blah universality, blah blah more popularity, blah blah WADA, and because I said so”. Of course, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) remains a paragon of virtue and consistency even as it undertakes more witch hunts than the Salem, Massachusetts townspeople once did in a year. Mind you, the notion of baseball’s universality might be completely lost on someone who couldn’t find the wickets anywhere near the catcher.
Baseball has been unofficially part of the Olympics as an exhibition sport since 1904. The sport received medal status for the 1992 Barcelona games, and it maintained that status through the 2008 games in Beijing. Throughout the 5 Olympics during which the sport held medal status, a total of only 6 nations earned medals, but nearly 3 times that many actually participated. In terms of venue requirements, it takes far less space than a golf course, and golf is an Olympic sport. Actually, rugby has also gained medal status. Nothing against both golf and rugby, but replacing baseball and softball with golf and rugby is like substituting apples for oranges. They qualify as neither the same nor equal.
Naturally, America’s Pastime and its sister, softball, suffer from a heavy American influence, so it should surprise no one that the IOC struck down both of them. Perhaps more to the point, Team USA’s dominance in softball made it the perfect target for the IOC. After all, they simply cannot allow any particular nation to dominate in a particular sport, especially when that nation happens to be the United States. Now, it would be silly to accuse the IOC of bias, so I’ll just say that May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh better be careful about how they go about seeking their 3rd consecutive women’s beach volleyball gold medal. Such sustained excellence has no place in the modern Olympiad.
As for baseball’s future in the Olympics, the IOC has suggested that Team USA jump through all 5 Olympic rings to raise the sport to the accepted standard on the international level in order for the committee to consider bring baseball back into the fold. Same goes for softball. The truly sad part here is that it really is not the US that suffers the most as a result of baseball’s status. Instead, the true amateur players from countries outside the US lose an incredible opportunity to see and be seen on a huge stage. Literally hundreds of baseball players could be given the chance to perform in front of scouts for professional baseball teams everywhere, and some of the resulting feedback could result in several players signing contracts. Maybe the signing bonuses of $25-50K seem relatively small by MLB standards, but that kind of money goes a long, long way in South Africa, Cuba, and other places where baseball is popular.
Perhaps the original intent was to take a few jabs at Team USA while reducing the country’s potential medal count just a bit. Fine. However, the unintended consequences reach far beyond America’s shores and all the way to some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Maybe people like Jacques Rogge should think about such things while watching the “10M Air Rifle” competition. The shortsighted decision to eliminate baseball and softball hurts 3rd world countries far more than it does the Olympic superpower that will work to jump through all the necessary hoops on behalf of national baseball and softball teams everywhere.
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