IBAF Makes Olympic Pitch

Sport seeks reinstatement for 2016 Games




The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London will feature synchronized swimming, badminton and race walking . . . but not baseball.

The International Baseball Federation hopes that will change by the time the 2016 Games roll around. So the IBAF sent six representatives to make a presentation to the International Olympic Committee last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, about getting baseball back in the Olympics.

"I think it went really well," IBAF president Harvey Schiller said from Switzerland after the presentation. "We were really prepared. We tried to focus on our commitment to anti-doping, the fact that baseball has been a welcoming sport with no economic barriers and that baseball was really the first integrated sport with Jackie Robinson."

Along with baseball, several other sports are hoping to be part of the Olympic program in 2016. Softball, golf, karate, rugby, squash and roller sports are all competing for two available spots in the 2016 schedule. The sports other than baseball and softball have never been on an Olympic program before.

Six representatives made the 30-minute pitch for baseball: Schiller, a former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee and former Braves and Yankees executive; IBAF secretary general John Ostermeyer, as well as executive committee members Martin Miller and Sandra Monteiro; MLB senior vice president of international business operations Paul Archey; and Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, serving as an international baseball ambassador.

Granderson said he would like to see baseball back in the Olympics because of the global appeal of the game.

"The big thing that I got a chance to experience from going to Europe and South Africa and China is that the one mistake is that everyone thinks baseball is such an Americanized sport," Granderson said. "But when you travel throughout the world, you see that baseball is being played by all ages, both male and female, and that there are different professional leagues in places like Italy and China. Aside from that, there's over 70 countries with 2 million boys and girls playing Little League Baseball throughout the world. I think it exemplifies what the Olympics are all about."

The groups made their pitch to a 20-person panel from the IOC. The panel will make a recommendation next summer on which sports to add, but the final decision is left to the full IOC membership, which meets next October in Copenhagen. The IOC Congress will decide at the same meeting where the 2016 Olympics will be, with Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo as the finalists.

Baseball made its pitch first, in a 30-minute presentation that was followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session. Schiller said the presentation touched on baseball's commitment to youth activities around the world, such as Little League Baseball, and the game's relevance to new media. He also pointed out that the finalists for the 2016 Games are all set up to accommodate baseball.

Schiller said IOC members naturally asked about getting major league players involved if baseball is reinstated. It has been a continual question regarding baseball's place in the Olympics, because the Olympics usually come in the middle of the major league season.

"The question is always going to come up," Schiller said. "The league could allow players to participate, but it's really still up to the club. We believe the tournament in 2016 will have the best players available, but baseball will not shut down to participate. They understand that—they understand that baseball is a big business."

To further address those concerns, the IBAF delegation read a statement from commissioner Bud Selig during the presentation, which said in part: "The 2016 Olympics will have the best representation of professional players in Olympic history."

Granderson said that he would love the opportunity to play in the Olympics. While having major league players participate would help draw interest to the games, it might not affect the competition.

"It's not like a majority of sports where a dominant physical ability prevails," Granderson said. "Any team can beat any other team on any given day based on luck of the draw. The Japanese team this year was considered the Japanese dream team and they didn't even qualify for a medal.

"The idea of the best players could be thrown around so many different ways—there's really no way to define that. For example, the (U.S.) team that was put together this year had a lot of guys with 40-man experience and a lot of guys that are or will be the future's best. You can see what kind of impact younger players can have when you look at what Evan Longoria did for the Rays this year or Lincecum in San Francisco, or the Cubs' catcher, (Geovany) Soto."

Baseball got knocked out of the Olympics in 2005, when the IOC conducted secret balloting on all 28 sports in its program. Baseball and softball were the only two that did not receive enough votes to stay in, meaning the 2008 Games in Beijing marked their final hurrah, at least for the time being. They are the first sports to be eliminated from the Olympics since polo was nixed in 1936.

South Korea went undefeated in Beijing to win the gold, defeating Cuba for the title. Team USA, which consisted of minor league players not on teams' 40-man rosters, won the bronze medal.