10-4-2012 Countdown to the 2020 Olympics

COUNTDOWN TO OLYMPICS 2020

A Spy Editorial

 

The Quest

 

In the Christian liturgical calendar, advent is defined as a period of anticipation and expectation.  While the religious advent, which begins December 1st, is the beginning of the Christmas season, the period of expectation and anticipation for the world of fastpitch softball begins December 19-20, when panels of eight international sports will make presentations to the IOC Executive Board – in anticipation of the Board’s meeting in Lausanne in May at which one of the eight sports will be chosen for recommendation to the full IOC in September, in Buenos Aires, for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics..

The EB has agreed on a shortlist of sports that will be considered for inclusion in the sports programme of the 2020 Olympiad. The sports are: baseball, karate, roller sports, softball, sports climbing, squash, wakeboard and wushu, one of which could be added to the 2020 sports programme to be voted on by the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires in 2013. The programme can include a maximum of 28 sports.

There is a substantial question whether women’s fast pitch softball will be included in that parade of athletes when the 2020 Games begin – or will our vehicle be switched off to the side at Buenos Aires in 2013 when the IOC chooses the host city and the 2020 program.  Indeed, the more urgent question is will softball survive the Executive Board selection round in May 2013?

 

Softball people are eager to assume that the unprecedented participation and victories by female athletes at London tilt the field in favor of softball.  But, women play the other sports as well, and some like wushu have well-established international and national federations to rival ISF and ASA.

 

Spy’s Perspective on the ISF Presentation

Softball needs a new face to lead the presentation.  Perhaps Masato Mizuno, who will head the Japanese delegation and is an ardent advocate for softball. Japan is the reigning Olympic champion.  The USA has two very able former Olympians who embody the best of the Olympic spirit, are well-spoken, and exemplify the kind of young woman we think softball personalizes: Jennie Finch , Leah O’Brien, and Jessica Mendoza, young mothers who exemplify Olympic ideals.  They could support Mizuno or even taken the lead with Olympic athletes like Japan’s Yukiko Ueno.  If baseball is to have a voice, the nod should go to a personage like Cal Ripken.  Spy would also include a 12-year old like Malia Quarles of the Premiere champion 12U Batbusters, who could plead for her generation of softball players, who will be of age in 2020.

ISF also needs a ramped-up strategy, most notably demonstrations of support by softball organizations in the 15 countries who have members on the IOC Executive Board.  The USA is not on the board.

The Need to Rebrand Softball

Major media coverage of softball is pitiful.  Day after day, leading national publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times et al give readers updates on three different European soccer leagues; Little League receives daily broadcasts of its championship; etc.  The Post’s coverage of the NCAA tournament virtually ended when Virginia Tech was eliminated; the Series itself received a one-inch agate box.  There are daily reports on tennis wherever it is played.

 

Softball is not just a sport; it is a springboard to adulthood for thousands of young women.  Our players are wholesome, college educated young ladies who achieve success in non-athletic fields – a research biologist in Alaska, a Justice of the Supreme Court and numerous governors and members of Congress count their playing days as important to their development.  Hometown newspapers for the eight World Series finalists give multiple page coverage, but some of those newspapers are absent from the HoF press box if their hometown college team did not make the Series.  Papers in the USA ignore the European championship, and other softball games on foreign soil.

The build-up to Buenos Aires is critical.  Frankly, fastpitch softball simply does not get the press it deserves at the international, national or local levels – nothing like soccer.  ESPN has done a great job of airing games but the followup at the national and local level, in print or in broadcast media, has been woeful.  Have those 23,000 Facebook followers of ISF been challenged to raise awareness through the media?  How many of those 23,000 reside outside the USA? ISF sponsors a number of successful youth and adult programs not related to the Olympic movement; are the sponsors and players on those teams being organized to boost women’s fastpitch softball back into the Olympics?

Parallel Factors which Could Affect IOC Decisions on the 2020 Programme

 

While the December presentations will be critical, IOC has two other 2013 decisions which could impact upon preferences for the 2020 sports programme.

IOC president Jacques Rogge’s term is expiring.  No candidates have formally announced for the 2013 election, but it is prudent to expect these candidates and the victor to have sports preferences, ala Rogge, and to make those preferences known.  Is there a Rogge/rugby factor?  The IOC president played that sport and finally won its inclusion.  What will the new president bring to the table?

The parallel decision is the selection of a 2020 host city, on September 7, 2013. (see below)

The ISF Strategy

The international coordinating organization for softball is the International Softball Federation, headed since its creation by former ASA executive director Don Porter.  Ever-optimistic in a press release about the IOC short-list, Porter noted that an ISF Olympic Legacy Committee has been formed with ISF Secretary General Ms. Low Beng Choo as the chairperson.  He said that convincing the IOC that softball should be the one sport that they add in 2013 for the 2020 Games will be a global effort that will require and involve support from not only the worldwide softball community and the ISF’s current 127 member national federations, but others from within the Olympic Family, National Olympic Committees, sports ministries, media, government, and the corporate sector, “who we need to win over.” Already there are over 26111 followers at www.facebook.com/BackSoftball, the digital headquarters for the Olympic reinstatement campaign.

Porter, who indicated in a recent NFCA interview that he intends to head the ISF softball delegation at Lausanne and in Buenos Aires, is expected to describe a strategy for securing the votes of the Executive Board and IOC.  ASA officials tell Spy they do not know what that strategy will entail, or the specific of the proposed presentation. As late as last week, ISF said it did not know who will be included in the ISF group.

The only strategy which Porter has publicly  unveiled to date is submitting a joint proposal with Major League Baseball.  Porter and International Baseball Federation counterpart Riccardo Fraccari submitted their merger plans to the International Olympic Committee, which approved the idea in principle but will continue to review it.  The proposal calls for men’s baseball and women’s softball to be played at a single venue over seven to 10 days. Each tournament would feature eight teams. Baseball and softball would be two disciplines under a single sports banner.

The merger still requires formal approval from the congress of both federations. Porter said the combined federation would operate only for the Olympics, a plan that was questioned by IOC executive board member Denis Oswald. “That’s not enough,” Oswald, who heads the Association of Summer International Sports Federations, told the AP. “They should be one federation overall. We didn’t say to merge just for the Olympics.”  Baseball and softball were voted off the Olympic program by the IOC in 2005, making their last appearance in Beijing. Softball had been in the Olympics since 1996, and baseball since 1992.

In a recent interview with NFCA, Porter said “the best and only chance for softball to get back on the Olympic program” is to join forces with MLB. According to Porter in the interview, a number of influential IOC members have told ISF that, if MLB doesn’t commit (its best players) softball probably does not “stand a chance.”  However, a meeting among the two organizations and MLB was projected for August 1 – and still has not occurred.

Spy believes ISF should make a separate case for softball – on its merits.

The ISF Base

Porter continues to emphasize the ISF claim that softball is played competitively in 127 countries.  At minimum, Porter’s briefcase should include testimonials from each of those 127 countries, virtually all of whom have made some recognition of softball.  ISF’s 127 countries include Europe 39; the Americas 34, Asia 22, Africa 19, Oceana 13.  How many even have national teams?

The fact is that perhaps 16 countries play competitive international softball – the 16 who played in the recent ISF international cup in Whitehorse.  Czech Republic, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, South Africa, Australia, Japan, China, Argentina, New Zealand, Great Britain, Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, Italy, and the United States.  Brazil has played the US Cup.  Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Guatemala and a handful of others have played in ISF regional competition. European countries like Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden have played at the junior ISF level but other Europeans, who have the most votes in IOC, mostly play club softball.

The universe includes about 25 countries.  But competitively?  The Canadian Open and the ISF World Cup were essentially two-team tournaments: Japan and the USA.  Canada and Australia usually make the medal round.

Moreover, the IOC members, all with athletic interests, know precisely how softball figures into their country’s sports program – or not.

ISF Should Make A SEPARATE CASE FOR SOFTBALL

Having come up so short in Berlin, where there were two berths at stake, Porter should ask himself is he the best person to present softball – successfully.  After Berlin, Spy wrote that Porter should resign.  That’s unlikely, given his recent statements.  Yet, he could chair the delegation but let selected athletes from around the world make the presentation.  Some very articulate softball players went to Berlin and did not take part in the presentation.

Porter should drop Donna de Verona from the presentation group.  DeVerona won two gold medals in swimming at the 1964 Olympics – thirty-six or more years before players on the 2020 USA team will be born in 2000.  Able as she may be, and she has an impressive pedigree as an advocate of women sports, and serves on an IOC committee, she has no roots in softball.

If you follow ISF press releases, Porter seems to visit a different part of the world every month.  We’ve heard frequently about those 127 ISF member federations; how many of those countries are represented on the IOC Executive Board? How many actually field national teams?

How many reliable IOC votes does softball have?  Softball had 2 in Berlin.  There were 16 international teams at the ISF World Championship in Whitehorse.  How can their potential influence be generated?

Do the math.  The USA has three members of the IOC, none on the Executive Board.  There are 53 IOC members representing European nations.  Porter could assemble a small group of softball players from half a dozen countries and let them make the rounds in Europe, and elsewhere, at ISF expense, before next May but not too long after the December presentation..

An argument could be made that ISF should re-establish its headquarters in Europe, with European direction.  If softball is to expand meaningfully as an Olympic sport, Europe is the most fertile ground.

What will Porter and ISF do differently in BA than they did in Singapore, Turin and Berlin?  ISF has formed a Legacy Committee, but it’s mandate has not been declared.  To be sure, Porter will be hosting receptions for dignitaries at upcoming events like Capetown, Whitehorse, etc., perhaps not on the scale of the dinners and cocktail parties ISF held at Columbus, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. But, that wining and dining did not yield needed votes at subsequent IOC meetings.

What are the harbingers which occasion ISF to believe it will succeed in BA?

The ISF president stated that, “Softball brings so much to the Olympic Movement.  We know that the IOC wants a sport whose best athletes will compete at the Games.  It should go without saying that a sport clear of doping problems is a must.  And a sport that is global, relevant, and not financially burdensome to the host organizing committee round out the attributes that have been stated as being of prime importance.  We are confident that softball delivers on all of those criteria.”

Mr. Porter noted that an ISF Olympic Legacy Committee had already been formed this year in anticipation of the shortlist announcement, with ISF Secretary General Ms. Low Beng Choo as the chairperson.  He said that convincing the IOC that softball should be the one sport that they add in 2013 for the 2020 Games will be a global effort that will require and involve support from not only the worldwide softball community and the ISF’s current 127 member national federations, but others from within the Olympic Family, National Olympic Committees, sports ministries, media, government, and the corporate sector, “who we need to win over.”

Spy’s Critique

The hard fact is that despite all of ISF and Porter’s indefatigable lobbying, softball succeeded in gaining entry to the 1996 games primarily because of an intervention by the late IOC president, Samaranch.  The Australians, a long-time softball super power, insisted on softball in the 2000 programme, as Greece and China did for 2004 and 2008. But, softball was not challenged when the IOC approved the programs for those subsequent Olympics.  Indeed, softball was never challenged before Rogge was elected President in 2001 so 2000 and 2004 were safe as the Games had already been awarded. Rogge tried to make changes in 2008 but could not get any support for those initiatives. He succeeded in Singapore in 1995 as he had time to work the delegates to get two sports removed to make room for Rugby and Golf.  There was a tie vote; softball needed another vote to remain in the 2012 programme.

Much has been made of the fact that one IOC member abstained.  Spy, who is a veteran of many types of international organizations and meetings, including the United Nations, contended then and now that ISF should have known whether it had the votes.

No question that ISF helped lay the foundation for success, and, extraordinary circumstances prevailed.  Indeed, before the first pitch was thrown in Beijing, softball had in effect been voted out of the 2012 games in London, followed by the failure of the reinstatement effort for 2016.

Bottom line: Porter has traveled first class to every ribbon-cutting and nose-blowing on six continents and could only generate two votes in Berlin when two other sports were chosen for 2016.

For all the hoopla surrounding the Olympics, it’s a political organization – with political agendas.

Spy does not know what kind of new and hopefully more successful lobbying (political) effort ISF envisions, but, Spy suggests some starting points.

The Executive Board as currently constituted has 15 members – the president (J. Rogge from Belgium); four vice presidents: Z.Yu from the People’s Republic of China; M. Pescante of Italy; S.Ng of Singapore; and T.Bach from Germany.  The board has 10 members: D.Oswald and R. Fasel, both of Switzerland; M.V.Rana from Mexico; F.Fredericks of Namibia; El Moutawakel of Morocco; R.Carrion of Puerto Rico; C.Reedie of Great Britain; J.Coates of Australia; S.Ramsamy of South Africa; and G. Lindberg of Sweden.

Of this EB group, Carrion, Coates, Yu and Bach’s countries played in the ISF Junior Women’s Championship in December in Capetown, where Ramsamy was of course the leading figure. Fertile field.  More, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Sweden competed in the recent European Championships.  And Mexico hosted ISF women’s qualifier.  (The EB could change in 2013; still the ISF should target the current and any prospective new members.)

Thus, ten of the 15 EB members must certainly be aware of the softball programs in their home countries – programs sufficiently developed to play at an international level.

Add to that list the 16 countries who sent teams to Whitehorse.  Fertile indeed!

Hopefully, the teams who played in those tournaments have been in close liaison with the IOC members from their countries.  Hopefully, every team has been challenged to identify primary media targets and encourage them to promote softball.  The organizers in Capetown developed an excellent communications program; the game stories were sent – but were they published?  That responsibility for maximum media exposure should be shared by every team, including the USA, and that groundwork needs to be undertaken now, well in advance of the December presentations and again before the Executive Board makes its decision in May.

How best to exploit these known interests?  Start by realizing there are seven other sports which will be considered: baseball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, squash, wakeboard and wushu.  All had enough support to make the list of eight; all are undoubtedly being promoted by federations like ISF.

For example, wushu is primarily a Chinese martial arts full-contact sport, but it has grown, has an international federation, and obvious influence within the IOC. The IWUF placed a bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have wushu included in future Olympic Games, but did not meet with success. However, the IOC allowed China to organize an international wushu event during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but this event was not one of the 28 official Olympic sports, nor was it a demonstration event. Instead, it was called the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Wushu Tournament.

Wakeboarding is organized by the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation (IWWF). The IWSF (renamed IWWF in 2009) was founded in 1946. The IWSF was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as official partner in 1967. Wakeboarding is part of the World Games (Non Olympic Games patronized by IOC) since 2005. The IWWF has more than 90 Member Nations all over the World and is organizing the Nationals Championships together with this Federations all over the globe. IWWF also hosts IWWF World Championships, the IWWF World Cup, the IWWF World Trophy and hundreds of international competitions. With more than 90 affiliate countries, hundreds of clubs and thousands of members the IWWF is the global leader in the sports of waterski and wakeboarding.

What factors clinch the case for softball – over these other sports?  ISF has played well-known cards – the 127 federations, Olympic success by Japan as well as the USA, Facebook and Twitterfollowing, etc – without success.  Similarly, after London, ISF posted several stories from US newspapers, lamenting softball’s absence.  Spy read those papers; encouraging.  But, those editors and reporters do not vote on the IOC Executive Board.

A long-time Olympic veteran was asked about marketing: “The ISF has failed to develop a worldwide telecast and distribution of their four World Championships. Both Rugby and Golf have international telecasts and that element reportedly put them ahead of softball in the last vote. Only baseball on the short list has this type of media presence so ISF should use its resources to insure international broadcasting (not web streaming) instead of flying around the world and making the same plea to the same IOC members that have not supported softball in the past.” As one long-time, knowledgable observer told Spy: “We need recognition of our sport to the masses and ISF is not providing that support. Moving the 2010 World Championships from OKC, where worldwide distribution was set up with ESPN and its family of networks (the final contract was reportedly not signed) and moving the event to Caracas with no television was a huge mistake by ISF. They lost exposure for softball when they needed it most.”  The most critical voice of all, Rogge, was critical of ISF marketing after the Berlin voting, and expressed that criticism of Porter and ISF in an interview in Beijing with Bob Costas..

Will Porter play a pat hand – or will he ask for new cards?  There is an old slogan from vaudeville: don’t follow a banjo act with another banjo act.

IOC is entering a new era under new leadership.  Porter represents the old face of softball.  Porter lost in Singapore; Porter lost in Turin, Porter lost in Berlin.

Why not target those 15 members of the Executive Board – and show them fresh faces.  Give them testimonials from the ISF’s 127 countries, but also give them testimonials from each of the 25 or so countries which actually play competitive softball.  And, where possible, give them testimonials from their home countries.  Political yes, but this is a political competition.

At minimum, demonstrate that softball is continuing to evolve – and show some fresh faces.

Don Porter- President for Life?

Don Porter has been at the helm of ISF for about 50 years, and reportedly is an octogenarian.  The age and longevity in his position are not reasons he should turn the microphone over to a fresh face, or even to resign the presidency.  After all, Jean Paul Samaranch, who died in 2010 at the age of 89, served 20 years as president of IOC, 1980-2001, was 80 when his term ended. Samaranch not only guided the IOC through troubling years of scandal and corruption, he expanded the Games and saved the Olympic movement financially.

Porter has also had his successes, staging successful international competitions, and forming ISF affiliates in those 127 countries.  The Junior World program has been quite successful. There are very creditable men’s programs, and regional competitions. But, he cannot claim credit for the four Olympic softball championships which are attributable to the dominant programs in the United States and Japan.

No one questions Porter’s determination to succeed or his commitment to the sport.

But, ISF is a troubled presence on the international stage.  The brand has lost some luster under Porter.  International cups involving national, Olympic level teams were held in Caracas and Whitehorse because no other organizations would agree to host.  And on the biggest sage of all – ensuring softball’s continued participation in the Olympics, Porter is a loser.  Indeed, while Porter worked tirelessly for years to convince the IOC to add softball, the fact is that softball was included at Atlanta thanks largely to the intervention of Samaranch.

Does Porter envision continuing to head ISF in 2020?

While much of this critique focuses on Porter, whose ego seems to compel him to command the world stage, ISF has a board who  shares the blame for softball’s low standing and minimal public awareness..

Selecting the Host City

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that six cities have been put forward by their respective National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to apply to host the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in 2020. The cities, in alphabetical order, are: Baku (Azerbaijan), Doha (Qatar), Istanbul (Turkey), Madrid (Spain), Rome (Italy) and Tokyo (Japan).

 

Only two, Rome and Tokyo, have established international softball organizations.  Japan of course is the reigning Olympic, Canadian Open, and ISF International champion.

And, Japan’s bid is being directed by a man whose name is synonymous with sports – including fastpitch softball.  Former Mizuno Corporation Chairman of the Board and Representative Director, Masato Mizuno, has been appointed to the position of CEO of the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee by the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) Executive Board. As a result, Mizuno resigned from his position with Mizuno Corporation on September 5th, in order to avoid conflict of interest..

The IOC Evaluation Commission’s appraisal will be published in a report and sent to the IOC members no later than one month before they cast their votes on 7 September 2013.

NOCs had until 1 September 2011 to notify the IOC that a city within their jurisdiction was interested in applying. In addition, all of the above NOCs/cities complied with the newly introduced prerequisite criteria established by the IOC Executive Board (EB) in October 2010.

The six Applicant Cities will now proceed to Phase 1 of the IOC’s two-step procedure, which will lead to the election of the 2020 host city in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 September 2013.

The US Olympic Committee announced earlier that it would not submit a bid.  Spy and others had tangential hopes that a US city as host might increase the chances of softball being added to the 2020 program – remembering full well that London’s initial bid made provision for softball, but softball was not among the 26 programs IOC approved for London.

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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