Berlin is an unlikely setting for committee meetings that have anything to do with baseball. But in an International Olympic Committee vote there Thursday, IOC members decided the Olympics are an unlikely setting for baseball in general.
The IOC’s executive board voted to include golf and seven-man rugby as new Olympic sports for the 2016 games, with baseball falling short of reinstatement in the Games. It was one of seven sports looking for inclusion, a list that included karate, roller sports, softball and squash.
Baseball entered the Olympics in 1984, when it was a demonstration sport, then became a medal sport for the first time in 1992. Cuba won gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2004. The United States took the gold in 2000, while South Korea won what may prove to the be the last Olympic baseball tournament in 2008.
Baseball and softball were voted out of the Olympics in an IOC vote in Singapore in 2005, in part due to an anti-American reaction to the Iraq war, as well as in reaction to steroid (doping) scandals in the U.S. major leagues. IOC president Jacques Rogge, a former rugby player himself, also has criticized baseball for not having major leaguers involved in the Olympics, in contrast to the NBA and NHL, which have their players participate in the Olympics.
USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler released a statement that summed up where the sport of baseball now sees itself internationally, with the loss of the Olympics being seen as a blow but not an insurmountable loss.
“As disappointing as this decision by the IOC is, it is interesting to note the significant global growth our sport has experienced since we first heard of this possible outcome (from Singapore in 2005),” Seiler said in the statement. “International participation at all levels of baseball continues to grow, and the success of the World Baseball Classic is undeniable proof that ours is a sport with worldwide appeal. We are looking forward to contributing to, and being a part of, that growth for years to come.”
Without the Olympics, the WBC, an International Baseball Federation-sanctioned event that is run by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, becomes the de facto signature international event for the sport. Whether or not the WBC, held in 2006 and 2009 and next scheduled for 2013, can become an event that helps drive the sport’s international growth remains to be seen. While the WBC has caught on in the Far East and to an extent in Latin America and Europe, it has yet to capture the attention of the North American market. It also doesn’t draw government funding for baseball at a grassroots level the way Olympic governing bodies do in most countries.
According to the twitter feed of Inside The Games, a Website that covers the Olympics, there were four rounds of voting. Roller sports was the first of the seven sports to get eliminated in round one. Rugby got the necessary nine votes in the second round, where squash was eliminated. Baseball followed in round three with just one vote. Golf finally made it in round four with nine votes. Interestingly, golf nearly didn’t make the cut in round one and two with just one vote.
IBAF, which spearheaded the move to get baseball back into the Olympics, will also still have World Cup tournaments with professionals, with a World Cup scheduled for Sept. 9-27 at sites around Europe. IBAF’s Olympic proposal had included a plan for a five-day, eight-team tournament that would have included participation by MLB players, particularly if the 2016 Games are held in Tokyo or Chicago. IBAF’s official release reacting to the Olympic vote congratulated the sports that were included but also made baseball’s case for reinstatement once more.
“Today is certainly a disappointing day for the billions of fans and participants around the globe who love the game of baseball, especially for the many young people from emerging countries who are now just learning the game and will not get the opportunity to realize the Olympic dream that so many before them have had,” IBAF’s statement read. “We effectively addressed all the International Olympic Committee’s questions with regard to reinstatement and are confident that we had made the best presentation possible.
“The game of baseball has grown stronger around the world, and overall baseball is seen and played by more boys and girls and men and women, both disabled and able-bodied, than ever before. Baseball will always emulate the Olympic ideals, and we predict that the IOC will be asking baseball back to the Games for 2020, as we will continue to be the best partner for global sport possible.”
The recommendation now goes to the full IOC membership for a vote in October, which will determine whether rugby and golf join the Olympic program or not. In the past, the recommendations are almost always approved.