Jacques Rogge finally got what he wanted: baseball and softball out of the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee, following the lead of its president, had secret-ballot voting on all 28 sports on the Olympic program Thursday, and baseball and softball were the only two that failed to receive the majority of votes needed to stay in the Games. So the 2008 Beijing Olympics will likely be the last Games with baseball and softball for the foreseeable future.
They are the first sports dropped from the Olympic program since polo in 1936. Baseball became a demonstration sport in 1984 and has been a medal sport since 1992. Cuba has won three of the four gold medals since then, with the U.S. claiming gold in 2000 with a team of minor leaguers led by current Brewers righthander Ben Sheets.
And in a surprising follow-up to the vote to drop baseball and softball, the IOC decided not to add any sports to take their place. Golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports were on the waiting list, and squash and karate were the only sports to make the first hurdle and get nominated for inclusion. Both were soundly rejected, however.
"I feel like somebody who has been thrown out—it's certainly not a good feeling," Aldo Notari, the Italian president of the International Baseball Federation, told the Associated Press. "I don't think the IOC members know our sport deeply enough. But we'll continue to survive. We're looking ahead to Beijing and putting on a good show."
USA Baseball officials, who helped fight off a 2002 effort to remove baseball from the 2008 Olympic slate, said they would focus on getting ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and working to bring baseball back for the 2016 Games.
“We are obviously disappointed in the decision,” USA Baseball president Mike Gaski said. “Our sport has worked tirelessly over the course of the last three years to address the concerns expressed by the IOC in 2002, and felt as though we had done a good job of doing so.”
“Our focus now is to prepare for our Olympic qualification for Beijing,” executive director Paul Seiler said. “As we look forward, our responsibility will continue to be on the athletes we prepare to represent our country in international competition, at all levels. Additionally, we will continue to work with our fellow member federations around the world to ensure the return of baseball to the Olympics.”
Baseball Canada officials also said they hope the sport can get voted back on to the Olympic program for the 2016 Games.
“We are terribly disappointed with the outcome of the International Olympic Committee’s vote,” said Ray Carter, president of Baseball Canada. “Given the strong expansion baseball has experienced internationally over the years, it is extremely regrettable the sport will not be allowed the chance to be showcased on such a tremendous global stage in 2012.”
Australian officials, who used the 2000 Games in Sydney to boost baseball in the nation and who won the silver medal in baseball last summer in Athens, said the steroid scandal in the United States hurt the sport, though they continued to support the inclusion of both baseball and softball.
“I’m shocked and disappointed” said John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee. “It is very sad to lose two of our member sports. The AOC and the Australian Sports Commission had focused heavily on developing both sports over the past 10 years.”
Rogge succeeded Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president. Samaranch’s long reign at the IOC included, among other things, expanding the Olympic program of sports and bringing professionals into the Games, with the idea that the Olympics should feature the world’s best athletes. Rogge has contended for several years (and in previous attempts to remove baseball from the ballot) that the lack of major leaguers in Olympic play left it short of the Games’ standards.
Baseball is far from the only sport, though, that does not have its top professionals in the Olympics, with soccer being the most obvious example. Soccer’s best do turn out for its World Cup, and now baseball will start its own version of that tournament with the World Baseball Challenge, which Major League Baseball, the union and the International Baseball Federation will stage for the first time next spring.
The World Baseball Classic will be a World Cup-style tournament with 16 nations likely using their best players, and because it will be in the spring and has MLB’s backing, major league players should be on most rosters.
Rogge cited the lack of major leaguers and drug testing discrepancies, as well as the expense of building baseball and softball venues, as reasons in 2002 for his first attempt to remove baseball from the Olympic program. At that time, he proposed removing baseball, softball and modern pentathlon in favor of golf and rugby. In a compromise reached at that time to keep the sports on the program, baseball and softball agreed to possibly share a venue at future Olympics, but the sports could not retain their spot this time around.