ANALYSIS OF THE IOC VOTE
The following was written by Christine Brennan, the award-winning columnist for USA Today.
“Wrestling’s back. It was never really gone, but it’s certainly back for keeps now. Voted out of the Olympics in February, the sport missed nothing: no Olympic Games, not even any free food in the International Olympic Committee hospitality suite. The IOC was supposed to add a new sport for the 2020 Olympics. Instead, it made sure one of its oldest didn’t leave.
But poor softball. When wrestling became one of its competitors for that one spot back in February, its chances effectively were over. It was originally exiled from the Olympics in 2005, by mistake. The IOC thought it was dumping steroid-laden baseball, but voted out softball too at a time it was specifically trying to increase the number of women in the Summer Games.
That’s those old European aristocrats for you: Baseball? Softball? They all look the same.
Over the past eight years, softball gave it the good old college try and even paired with baseball to try to impress the IOC, which turned out to be a disaster, but in the end, nothing really mattered when wrestling suddenly became its chief competitor. That turn of events prevented many countries from lobbying on behalf of softball, because they had a vested interest in wrestling too. The United States comes immediately to mind. This despite the fact that the IOC is still trying to reach an equal balance between male and female participants in the Summer Olympics, and it’s not there yet. (It’s 56% male, 44% female.)
Losing softball hurt then, and it hurts now — shutting down the burgeoning development of the game among girls and women in many new places around the globe — but IOC President Jacques Rogge did nothing to correct the mistake. An innovator would have. He leaves the IOC presidency with this as a stain on his legacy.
But the sport of softball didn’t help itself either. Desperate to get back into the Games, it joined forces with baseball in April 2011. Don Porter, who has run the international softball federation for decades, was told by worldwide sports leaders that combining with baseball was the right move. But it took away his bargaining chip as a women-only sport, and when no Major League Baseball representatives came to the IOC meetings, the bid was doomed.
“In Europe people look at it as one sport, associate the drug problems and the fact that the best athletes in the sport (MLB players) don’t compete,” IOC member Anita DeFrantz told USA TODAY Sports’ Kelly Whiteside. “By joining baseball, the leadership failed to do the right thing.”
No man on earth cares more about softball than Porter does, but, in the end, it was one final loss. The sport can try again, but for now, it has struck out.
There’s significant irony in wrestling beating softball (and baseball) for this “new” sport opening. One of the reasons the IOC wanted to add another sport was to make the Olympics more interesting to the vast young demographic that finds sports like wrestling to be, well, unwatchable. Here’s the thing: Softball is a popular TV sport, at least in the United States, which is why it’s on ESPN so often. Its ratings are quite good, better than most Olympic sports’ ratings outside of the Games themselves. Perhaps Tokyo 2020 organizers will realize the error of the IOC’s ways and figure out a way to bring back a sport Japan loves too.
Wrestling, meanwhile, deserves great credit for giving itself a makeover in little more than half a year. It was voted out of the Olympics in February when the IOC executive board was swayed by a popular member to not kill modern pentathlon instead, then went through seven months of purgatory where it changed leadership, became more viewer friend and added more female athletes (although nowhere near equal with the men), and was voted back in Sunday by the full IOC membership.
I know what you’re thinking. This is how the IOC works?
Yes. This is exactly how the IOC works.
As the saying goes, the last amateurs left in Olympic sports are the people running them.” (end of Brennan article)
SPY Note: Wrestling received a majority of the votes with 49; the baseball/softball bid received 24 votes; squash received 22. Forty-six delegates voted for a sport other than wrestling, a point softball advocates should note in tgeir hopefully continuing effort to have softball included in the games.
Before the vote, USA Today offered this analysis:
Why it makes the cut: The IOC aims for gender equity. The inclusion of softball, which was eliminated after the 2008 Games, provides equal spots for women. The formation of a single sport federation is expected to improve the bid’s chances. The federation is also pitching ways to shorten the competition, including seven-inning baseball games.
Why it doesn’t: Though MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the players association have pledged their support and a condensed eight team, six day tournament has been proposed to allow major leaguers to compete without missing too much of their season, many details still need to be worked out. The delegation was asked repeatedly about MLB’s involvement Friday. There are no officials from MLB at the IOC session.
Pre-vote drama: Antonio Castro, the son of the former Cuban leader and a vice president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, will help deliver the federation’s presentation. In a non-softball question at the baseball/softball press conference, a reporter asked why someone whose father was a “dictator” helps the bid’s chances. “We think Tony is a great representative of the sport,” said WBSC co-president Don Porter. “I don’t want to get into the politics of it.”
Star turn: Japan came up big for the bid. Home run king Sadaharu Oh has gone to bat for the bid and called on all countries to send their best players. Though Oh isn’t part of the delegation, he recently called out MLB. “I believe every major league around the world should find a way to make its best players available for the Olympic Games,” he said.
Rogge praised wrestling after the vote. As quoted by USA Today, “Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said. “They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport.”
In its presentation, wrestling was quick to stake its position as a sport of the future, not the ancient past. “Wrestling is new in virtually every way,” said Jim Scherr, a former wrestler and ex-CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Taking all of these and other comments in hand, one immediate question is whether the IOC under new leadership will expand the 2020 programme; the parallel question is how best can softball be presented again to the IOC. If a revised presentation is permitted, two more questions arise: should softball be separated from baseball, and who should make the presentation. If you read the wire service reports on the presentations, softball/baseball may have been the least dramatic, and baseball proved to be an albatross. No MLB figures were present and the presenters could not guarantee the participation of MLB stars.
Spy believes softball should make a separate bid, and that the delegation and presentation should be made by Ron Radigonda, a very effective presenter, who retires next month from USA Softball. Given what has been written about the other presenttations, a softball panel should include bright, young personalities like Jennie Finch.
Spy believes softball should pursue a double track, soliciting Japan’s interest in a parallel tournament. Again, Spy suggests a softball-only approach with the same emphasis on dynamic presenters.
End of editorial