9-12-2011 Countdown to 2020 Olympics

2020 Olympic Countdown

The Quest
The International Olympic Committee has taken the first steps on that highly reticulated road which will culminate at the opening of the 2020 Olympics.

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.

Selecting the Host City

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this week 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).

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.

• Phase 1, known as the Candidature Acceptance Procedure, focuses on a technical review and the cities’ ability to host the Olympic Games in 2020. Cities are required to answer a questionnaire, and their answers are studied by the IOC. At the end of this first phase, the IOC EB selects the cities that will become Candidate Cities and therefore move on to Phase 2.

• Phase 2, known as the Candidature Procedure, concentrates on Games operational matters. Candidate Cities will be requested to submit their Candidature File – which is an in-depth description of their Olympic project – and will be subject to a technical assessment made by a visiting team – the IOC Evaluation Commission. 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 and in time for the 2020 briefing for IOC Members. The report will also be available to the public on www.olympic.org.

The US Olympic Committee announced earlier that it would not submit a bid.  Chicago, which lost an aggressive, expensive bid for the 2016 Olympics that was rejected in the first round of IOC voting, as well as Boston and New York were mentioned in media speculation as possible venues for a USA bid.  USOC cited the continuing dispute with the IOC on sharing Olympic revenues – the IOC wants to reduce the amount current formulas give to the United States – as a factor in its decision.  On the final ballot, the IOC chose Rio de Janeiro for 2016.

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.

Of the cities in the 2020 hunt, Japan has the most established softball program – and is the reigning Olympic champion in softball, having defeated USA at Beijing in 2008.

And, Japan’s bid is being directed by a man whose name is synonymous with sports – including fastpitch softball.

Masato Mizuno Appointed CEO Of Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee
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..

Softball again on IOC shortlist

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed July 4 the inclusion of ski slopestyle (men and women), snowboard slopestyle (men and women) and snowboard parallel special slalom (men and women) on the sports programme of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

The decision was taken by the IOC Executive Board (EB) ahead of the 123rd IOC Session in Durban, South Africa, and follows the inclusion in April of ski halfpipe (men and women), women’s ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, figure skating team event and luge team relay.

The EB also 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.

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 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.” Already there are over 23,000 followers at www.facebook.com/BackSoftball, which is set to become the digital headquarters for the Olympic reinstatement campaign.

Porter, who will undoubtedly head the ISF softball delegation at Buenos Aires, is expected to describe a strategy for securing the votes of the Executive Board and IOC when the ISF Congress meets in October in Oklahoma City.  ASA officials tell Spy they do not know what that strategy will entail, now, and in the coming months, and at the actual presentation.  They say IOC has to set forth the criteria for the selection process.  One unanswered question:  there are 28 venues for 2016; does IOC envision dropping a current Rio venue?  Or, do the two sports added at Berlin require another approval?

As recently as the World Cup in Oklahoma City, Porter was suggesting a possible collaboration with the international baseball counterpart – an unusual alliance given that Porter and others have long believed softball has been hurt image-wise in the international community because people confuse it with the scandal-plagued Major League Baseball.  Now, the reality is that the IOC only allows one governing body for each sport, and one representation.  This idea won’t fly (even if they could figure out who would play if there was a single berth awarded to a combined effort); reminded Spy of Italian General Umberto Nobile’s famous Red Balloon flight to the North Pole; attracted worldwide media attention, hyped by the sponsors, just like the ISF campaign; the balloon Italia  crashed – just like the ISF effort in Berlin.

Spy’s thoughts on strategy
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, she has no roots in softball.

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?

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 will be 16 international teams at the ISF World Championship next year 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.

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.  Moreover, at this time, there is no indication that IOC members will travel to the Yukon, making it even more imperative that national teams be energized to lobby their IOC members – and ensure they receive game reports.

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

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 as he had time to work the delegates to get two sports removed to make room for Rugby and Golf.

No question that ISF helped lay the foundation for success, but, 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.

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 will play in the ISF Junior Women’s Championship in December in Capetown, where Ramsamy is of course the leading figure. Fertile field.  More, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Sweden competed in the recent European Championships.  And Mexico is hosting next month’s ISF women’s qualifier.

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 will qualify and send teams to Whitehorse.  Fertile indeed!

Hopefully, the teams playing in these tournaments are 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 report on the games.  The organizers in Capetown have developed an excellent communications program; the game stories will be sent – but will they be published?  That responsibility for maximum media exposure should be shared by every participating team, including the USA, and that groundwork needs to be undertaken now, well in advance of the games.

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 is not one of the 28 official Olympic sports, nor is 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.

Is there a Rogge/rugby factor?  The IOC president played that sport and finally won its inclusion.

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 following, etc – without success.

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.

Will Porter play a pat hand – or will he ask for new cards?

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