By John Manuel
August 28, 2002
Two years ago, the Sydney Olympics gave the world an idea of how great international baseball could be.
And yet, the sport finds itself fighting for its international survival after an International Olympic Committee panel recommended dropping baseball (as well as softball and modern pentathlon) from the Olympic Games docket, starting in 2008.
The recommendation has to be accepted by the IOC’s executive board and then passed by a two-thirds vote by its general assembly, which has 127 members. The general assembly meets in Mexico City in November.
USA Baseball president and CEO Paul Seiler admitted the news was not good for his organization, which put together the gold medalist in 2000.
“It’s pretty simple, really,” he said. “The lobbying has already started, and we’ve got until that November meeting to make sure they don’t have 85 votes to eliminate the sport.”
Seiler stressed that amid the discord surrounding negotiations of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, both Major League Baseball and the union had pledged to support USAB’s lobbying efforts. “We work closely with them (to select the Olympic team), and they want to see the sport grow internationally,” he said. “They don’t want to lose the momentum the sport has gained.”
The recommendation also could stunt momentum for USA Baseball, which announced a move this summer to North Carolina’s Triangle area. As a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Baseball’s budget would be “negatively impacted” by if it ceases to be an Olympic sport, Seiler said.
“We would still be a viable organization with a purpose, but a different purpose,” he said. “It would become a function of adjusting to adversity, which is what baseball is really all about. We’d have to find alternative sources of revenue.”
The panel also recommended adding golf and rugby. IOC president Jacques Rogge, who has stressed that adding any new sports would now require eliminating others, told the Associated Press the IOC wanted “to see if the composition of the (Olympic) program can be improved.”
Asked what a sport needed to be included in the Olympics , Rogge cited “popularity, universality, that it not cost too much, not hurt athletes’ health, and bring necessary diversity.”
Seiler said USA Baseball had not been given any reason for the recommendation. He speculated that construction costs for venues could be a factor, along with the minimal TV exposure the sport has received since becoming a medal sport in 1992, after being a demonstration sport in the prior two Olympiads.
“But the sport’s success as a spectator sport at the last two Olympics has been demonstrated,” he said. “We had more than one million go through the turnstiles in Atlanta in 1996 (including 44,221 in the gold-medal game between Cuba and Japan), and ranked in the top five in attendance in Sydney (drawing almost 250,000 fans).”
USA Baseball official statement
In response to recent reports citing the possible exclusion of baseball from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, USA Baseball released the following statement:
“USA Baseball fully understands and applauds the attempt of the International Olympic Committee to review and amend the program of the Olympic Games to ensure that it is relevant to current and emerging trends in international sports. We are concerned, however, to be notified that there is a possibility, however slight, that baseball may not be involved in the 2008 Games.
“We fully appreciate the challenges faced by the IOC in managing the full scope of what are the modern Olympic Games, but we are confident that the final results of the review and decision process outlined by the IOC Programme Commission will still include baseball, with its broad worldwide appeal, as a key sport in the 2008 Games.
“It is our intention, in full cooperation with the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and other interested groups like the United States Olympic Committee, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, to coordinate the resources of our sport, both domestically and internationally, to tell baseball‚s “story” over the next few months, to ensure that baseball remains on the Olympic program in 2008 and beyond.”