MAY 15 Spy Update
THE DOMINOS KEEP FALLING
THE FLATS – The contract of Sharon Perkins, Georgia Tech’s head softball coach of seven years, will not be renewed, athletic director Mike Bobinski confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
“After careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interest of our softball program to go forward under new leadership,” Bobinski said. “I would like to thank Sharon for her service to Georgia Tech and wish her well in future endeavors.”
Under Perkins, Georgia Tech won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships and advanced to NCAA postseason play six times. Perkins, a three-time ACC Coach of the Year, compiled a record of 290-138 during her tenure.
After posting winning seasons in each of her first six seasons, the 2013 Tech softball team slipped to 25-30 overall, bowing out of the ACC Tournament last week with a first-round loss against North Carolina.
Before coming to Georgia Tech in 2007, Perkins served six years as an assistant and associate head coach at Georgia. In 1999 and 2000, Perkins was an assistant coach at Southern Mississippi.
THE NEW KENTUCKY STADIUM
Spy attended the SEC Conference tournament in Lexington this past weekend; a very professional outing, on the field and in the press box. Bit of a hike from the public parking, but once there, spectators found ample seating, all good views, concession stands with varied fare, courteous ushers, multiple and well maintained restrooms. The gem at the center of this diadem was the grounds crew. Torrential rain (reminded me of monsoons in Burma) forced cancellation of the Friday schedule, but the crews were hard at work Saturday and when the sun finally shone in Kentucky, the teams had a well-laid out field on which mixtures of dirt and dry-out offered a fast surface. Large scoreboard offered photos of players as well as pertinent data, and was accurately monitored. The press box was well-lit, gave wi-fi access, and the KU media staff was prompt with lineups and printouts. Bit cluttered with SEC and KU officials who seemed to prefer the press working area to the two private rooms on either side. Very grateful to the KU media aides, especially Cory who programmed my IPhone GPS so I could go back and forth to the Hyatt w/o getting lost (again), and softball SID Evan Crane. Very courteous group. I am grateful for their assistance.
PULLING THE TRIGGER
As President Bush was ending his Administration, the escalating war was somewhat constrained by the difficulty in persuading capable foreign service and intelligence officials with any background in the region to accept postings – which admittedly had high mortality rates, primarily among our military personnel. A then high-ranking CIA official had just paralleled to Defense and tried to convince me to go back. Somehow, my insistent “no” was not emphatic enough,
A bird colonel in the Pentagon called at home, saying he understood I might reconsider, noting that I had been in every Middle East and Southwest Asian country, and thus he wanted to know if I had kept up my weapons qualifications. He then read me a list of weapons on which I had qualified over time. My first response was that the list should have been Top Secret and he should not have had access to it. Not only did he have the list, he knew when I had carried particular weapons after my military duty, and my preference for the Walther. The Colonel made a tactical mistake, by insinuating that the government had expended a great deal of time and money on training me how to fire weapons (and other useful implements of war), and giving me crucial exposure to the region, and I had an obligation. Whoa, Nelly. I reminded him that I had more than repaid any obligation, and was not afraid of gunfire, and had indeed been shot at more than once, and suffered two knife wounds.
The last time I was in Afghanistan and Iran, I believed we had nothing to gain in either country, given their centuries-old adherence to tribal law, which superceded any arguments we made for national governments, solidarity and the rule of civil law.
I have not changed that belief that our gains are at best fragmented, even superficial, at a premium cost in our peoples lives and national treasure. Think of the public good we potentially could have achieved with the billions on war in those two countries, and elsewhere in the Middle East, where allegiances are as shifting as the sands of the Sahara..
But, I thought about weapons. I have always opposed private ownership of military-type weapons. There is no Second Amendment right per se to owning an AR 15, or Uzi, or AK 47. There is no justification for high volume magazines – for hunting or target practice.
I wonder how many of the cowards in the Senate have ever witnessed a person dying from gunshot.
I remember the first. The woman lay sprawled on her bed, her hands splayed across her chest trying to hold back the blood, which was spurting out with every beat of her heart. There was nothing we could do but watch her bleed out. She had been shot with a military rifle.
The second time was civilian; three of the men who regularly played poker together suspected that a fourth player was cheating, and wired a double-barrelled shotgun under the table. At some point, they determined he had cheated, and one man pulled both triggers – turning the card player into a crowd. Turns out, the victim had belly-stripped the aces.
I wonder how many of those Senators have ever held hands with a dying man, body beyond repair, praying with him as he slipped into that final state of life. Or witnessed the torn bodies rent by mass killings or those killed through war and revolution. Other than veterans of military service, few.
Gun registration would not have prevented these deaths. But it would have stated, at virtually the highet level of our government, that we reject the culture of violent death by gunshot, that we are at one with those 20 little children in Newtown, with Gabby Giffords and other itims of gun violence.
Conceptualize the massive trauma inflicted by the eleven bullets which ripped through that one little first grader at Sandy Hook – and you have ample justification for limiting multiple round magazines.
No one proposes to take away the guns of law abiding citizens. There is no quarrel with the vast majority of responsible gun owners. No one pretends that criminals will register guns in their true names, if at all. Unless someone exhibits obvious mental instability as confirmed by medical records or hospitalization, the legislation in and of itself will have limited effect.
What that legislation really sought was a binding, a common affirmation of the value we as a nation assign to the sanctity of life, to aver that we will not tolerate the killing of our children.
Unfortunately, the Capitol is redolent with the stench of fear – fear of the NRA, fear of tea party activists, indeed of primary challenges from any source – heedless of the many warnings in the Federalist papers about the tyranny of the minority. Thus, there is little prospect of renewing the ban on assault rifles, or prohibiting the sale of high volume magazines. If the zealots truly believed in American democratic principles, the Congress would let these propositions be decided by roll call votes. The vote on the registration bill was an insult to the memory of the victims – and an affront to that great majority of Americans who favored it. Hopefully, those like Kelly Ayotte will be defeated in the next election.
To echo Woodrow Wilson, it is time to stand up and be counted.
Ps: there is a larger issue about the level of violence in our society, the quick rise to anger that results in death. On the east side of DC, carrying a gun is a sign of manhood among teens, and that ready availability underlies the almost nightly violence in our nation’s capital. I sometimes think we have lost our moral compass. It’s a terrible thing to take a man’s life – you’ve capped all of his yesterdays and foreshortened his tomorrows. With the pull of a trigger, you’ve become judge, jury and executioner. There are times when the greater courage is to summon the wisdom to look down the barrel at a man and release the hammer. I’ve been there.
ON THE REDSKIN WARPATH
I am not offended by the Washington football club using the name “Redskins.”
I am offended that our home team is owned by a short little egomaniacal glob of greed Daniel Snyder.
He got away with cutting down protected trees to enhance his view of the Potomac; he lights up his house and drive when his neighbors are without power; there is no bottom to his reservoir of greed.
But, while somewhat bothered that this detestable little runt and I are on the same side of any argument – I cancelled my season tickets long ago – I disagree with the plaintiffs on their suit to compel the government to in effect force a change in name by depriving the team of its brand name status.
In this, I am more fundamentally invested than many of the critics in Congress, local government and the press.
I am an enrolled member of two Indian nations – the Choctaws and the Osage – the first by blood, the latter by headright. I am descended from the LeFlore family who governed the Choctaw nation.
How far do the protagonists want to extend the “no breach” line? Not only are there 61 schools in the USA which call their athletic teams “Redskins” but many state and local governments have Indian-derived names. Most of the 77 counties in Oklahoma have Indian-inspired names; indeed, the term Oklahoma means land of the Red Man. Do the plaintiffs envision a wholesale divestiture of all Indian names – and much of the history of our country, coast to coast.
There are many opportunities for these critics to help the American Indian, more worthy than fighting Snyder. Precious little is being done about misery on the Indian reservations – the endemic poverty, the epidemic alcoholism and drug abuse. What if anything have these critics done personally to end the cycle of despair which begins for many Indians at birth? How many of them have ever stepped foot on an Indian reservation?
During the mid-70s, I chaired a conference on drug abuse in Salt Lake City; during the conference, a hotel clerk said there were some Indians in the lobby who wanted to see me. One happened to be Russell Means, the well-known Indian activist. He demanded to know what I and all these delegates from the Federal government and each State government, were doing to help the Indian. He had done his homework, and knew of my Indian ancestry (admittedly secondary to the German-Irish strains). I agreed to visit an Indian reservation and intervene with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in my capacity as director of the national effort to expand drug abuse treatment (one of many hats).
I went to the Dakotas and visited the Sioux at Pine Ridge reservation. The Sioux have a school which primarily serves Sioux orphans, a by-product of intense alcoholism and drug abuse. The director, a Sioux who earned his doctorate at Harvard, also operated a drug abuse clinic. His funding by the Bureau of Indian Affairs had been cut off and not replaced by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. When I joined their appeal, the first reaction was to challenge me because these matters were not the concern of the State Department. I argued that the Sioux were in fact a nation, recognized as such by treaty, but, more importantly, the staff of the school/clinic were educated professionals, more qualified than many of the programs which were receiving Federal funds.
The Sioux got their funds and invited me back to the Black Hills for a pow-wow – with the full panoply of dancing and music and of course buffalo meat.
I firmly believe that any person who has not broken bread with the Indians on their turf, and taken some action, however small, to address the real problems of the much disadvantaged American Indian, they have no foundation on which to side against the Washington Redskins. (Ps: I am a Giants fan) RFH
COMING OUT IN SOFTBALL
In the wake of Jason Collins telling Sports Illustrated that he is gay, reportedly the first athlete in a major sport to do so while actively playing, and Brittany Griner saying publicly that she is lesbian, Spy has received numerous inquiries about lesbians, gays, bisexuals in softball.
There are – but Spy regards sexual orientation as a very personal matter.
For numerous reasons, people in all walks of life have confided in me, which enabled me to become a prize-winning journalist as well as an intelligence official who was globally acclaimed for both in-depth knowledge and ability to keep secrets, traits brought with me to Spy, including a narrow definition of the public’s right to know. As a keeper of the secrets there are details of many international actions which I will carry to the grave.
Similarly, I have maintained that same standard of the right to know in both my journalism career and into sports reporting. I had photographic proof a top New York politico was doing the horizontal mambo with the wife of another top NY politico. Didn’t tell the editors but I did confront the man, gave him the evidence, and urged them to think of their children. I knew a top diplomat who couldn’t keep her panties on, and a sports mother with 10 children, three sired by men other than her husband.
Over time, that sense of what people need to divulge is as narrow as a laser beam. I know and have excellent relationships with several lesbian coaches and players, including their partners, some of them now married. Several are quite public about their relationships, but many are not. I know a player who has come out, as well as a bisexual player who has acknowledged her sexual preferences.
I have had a very good relationship with Kirk Walker, and much admire him for the frankness and wisdom he shared in The Daily Bruin, which is posted below. We’ve talked about softball, but also about children. Kirk is one of the most dedicated parents I know.
What decision they make about their personal lives is theirs alone. I have never assumed that a lesbian or gay coach was ipso facto a threat to the psychological or social welfare of their players; there have been instances where such sexually-related influence by coaches and even some players has allegedly been disruptive, but, like the occasional heterosexual liaison between coaches and players, they have been few. If there were such a poll, the odds are great that the percentage of homosexuals in sports , or other categories, approximates the percentage of homosexuals in the general society
Society and social mores have changed. There has been increasing acceptance of homosexuality; now, there is emerging acceptance of gay marriage. Prior to World War II, romantic relationships between whites and non-Caucasians, especially blacks, was a crime in many jurisdictions. Today, I have a great-granddaughter who is black; my family totally accepts her. My grandfather would disown me.
What I fear has not changed is the prurient, exploitative inclination of so many in our society who have not yet learned the difference between tolerance/acceptance and innate understanding of the human variable. We will not have crossed the Rubicon until the day when an athlete or any other well-known person declaring their sexual preference is no longer news. Today, reading some of the comments about Jason, pro and con, I fear the scorn or worse the virtual exile of those who proclaim they are different. Like Kirk in a recent comment, I am encouraged by some of the supportive statements from the athletic world. He and others hope more athletes will come out.
But I am not so trusting of the professed good intentions. How well the future Jasons are treated will be a good measure of the distance our society has progressed. I have received some negative emails.
There is need for greater tolerances of all our differences – religious, political, racial, educational and sexual. I do not hold myself up as a paragon of virtue; St Peter and I will have a long discussion about sins I have committed, but being intolerant is not among them.
I grew up in the Jim Crow South. Some of the catcalls, snide remarks, and baiting comments of youngsters in school were learned at home. Look at film clips from the riots in the South; their targets were blacks, fueled by fear of blacks voting and exercising political power, but also fear of blacks taking the low-level, menial jobs which for years were the backbone of the Southern economy. Other reporters and I walked with some of those marchers; we saw the hatred up close and personal.
Less obvious, and seldom on the front page, there was discrimination against Catholics, Jews and homosexuals. I was fortunate to have educated parents; my father was widely respected for his fairness to all, good qualities in a judge.
But our extended family was not invulnerable to the winds of hatred. My grandfather disliked Negroes, Catholics, Jews, and his oldest grandson, not necessarily in that order. I knew discrimination as a Catholic; a man stopped his car to give me a ride home in a blinding snowstorm, but then ordered me out of the car when I removed the scarf, saying he did not allow Catholics in his car. I also suffered fisticuffs because I had that most Prussian of last names during WWII. When I left the cloistered confines of a Catholic convent school, I had an immediate infatuation with a tall brunette who happened to be Baptist. I knew her sisters and brothers but the father bodily threw me out of the house, yelling angrily his daughter would not be violated by a Catholic.
Violated? I was all of 12 yrs old when I entered highschool.
The list of subjects which my Mother deemed too sensitive for my ears would paper Yankee Stadium.
That attitude had unfortunate consequences. My uncle had driven one of George Patton’s tanks throughout Europe, but had considerable post-war difficulty holding jobs. A marriage disintegrated. He had two problems. He was an alcoholic. He was homosexual. He lived with us for a short time, then, abruptly, he was gone – and the reasons were somewhere on that list of forbidden topics. Once when I was in highschool, I missed the bus and went to his apartment; when he called my parents, my father rushed to retrieve me, no explanation given.
The summer after my last semester at Oklahoma, I was living in the YMCA in Oklahoma City (a room destroyed by the blast at the Murrah building). I got a call from the barkeep at a dive called the Little White Cloud; they found a card in his pocket with my name and phone. The barkeep informed me that my uncle was not only regularly drunk, but known to hang with a group of homosexuals. I took him to a medical center with a drunk tank. A few days later, my father paid his hospital bill, and then explained to me why my grandparents, my Mother and her sister had broken off all communication with my uncle. He became the family leper. It wasn’t just the booze; homosexuality was the bar they wouldn’t raise.
I have seen that same rejection throughout my career. I can also bear witness to a double standard. The few at State and CIA who knew about my affair with an achingly beautiful Russian ballerina offered a few atta-boy remarks, but State both officially and unofficially tried mightily to prevent homosexuals from entering the diplomatic service, which could be cause for instant dismissal. Sports writers and others snicker at the alleged sexual exploits of Wilt, Tiger et al and babies spawned by itinerant basketball players. There is tolerance, as long as the unions are heterosexual. Jason threatens that double standard. Hopefully, he will not suffer the personal and financial hurt imposed on Billy Jean King.
Over the years, my uncle would call – different cities, deadbeat jobs. No one but my father wanted to hear such status reports. Finally, I received a call from the VA hospital in Detroit. My uncle had been a night clerk at a third rate hotel when his liver gave out. The VA offered to conduct a funeral. I called my Mother and aunt; the attitude was I should deal with the problem. Given the way they were raised, their response was expected and understood in the context of their lives.
I was the only mourner. The chaplain asked if I had anything to say. My reply: he is in a better place than any he knew in life. Over the years, I occasionally think of him, especially when I hear the song “Vincent.” I knew a man like that, who was never understood.
Assistant coach teams up with UCLA Athletics, Recreation to promote Ally Week
By Jordan Lee
For UCLA softball assistant coach Kirk Walker, some battles have been bigger than those his team faces at the ballpark.
UCLA is celebrating Ally Week, and Walker, who is openly gay, has been part of the effort put forth by UCLA Athletics and UCLA Recreation to help educate students regarding homophobia and bullying in sports and recreation.
But Walker has not always been as outspoken as he is now. It was not until 2006, when he was the coach at Oregon State, that he publicly disclosed his sexuality.
Walker and his partner were entering the process of adopting a child, and since his sexuality was about to become public, he wanted to be the one to tell his players.
“I don’t remember exactly what my words were because I was very, very nervous. … Immediately (players’) hands went up and all the questions were about the adoption. It was a relatively easy process, very relieving,” Walker said.
Walker’s announcement to his team made him the only publicly out NCAA Division I coach. It is a label he has both struggled with and embraced, fearing people would focus on his sexuality rather than his work. It was not until he received messages of support that he became an activist for LGBT rights.
“I was kind of a reluctant activist in the beginning, the first years I really fought it, I wanted to be known for my ability on the field, my ability as a coach,” Walker said. “I became less reluctant when I realized the impact that it was having.”
Since then, Walker, who graduated from UCLA in 1988 and served as assistant coach until 1994, has returned to UCLA this season to be an assistant under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
The team felt his impact immediately – and count Inouye-Perez, who has known Walker since her playing days in high school, among those who are glad to have him back.
“He is very savvy in getting people to understand that everyone should be treated equally and that everyone should be given a fair opportunity,” Inouye-Perez said. “So that in itself is who he is, he truly represents that.”
This past Monday, Walker, in conjunction with UCLA Athletics and UCLA Recreation, held an event for Athlete Ally, an organization which educates athletes, coaches and fans on issues regarding sexual orientation and sports.
“It was just a huge, monumental event for UCLA Athletics in general,” said senior outfielder Devon Lindvall. “Being able to come together as a community and really address the fact that straight, gay or wherever you come from, there is a safe environment.”
Despite the progress Walker has made with events like these, he said there is still work to be done regarding sexuality and sports, and he has called on college athletic departments to take a proactive stance in addressing concerns of lesbian and gay athletes.
He believes UCLA offers the perfect environment to continue progress that has already been made.
“From the days of Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson and breaking down color barriers to the women’s sports involvement in Title IX in the ’70s, UCLA was a leader in the fight for equality,” Walker said. “I think this is another opportunity for UCLA to continue to be a leader in the fight for equality and social change.”
Email Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FANNING THE OLYMPIC FLAME
Have the odds changed on a decision by the IOC to add softball to the 2020 Olympic Games?
An argument can be made that the odds on softball have lengthened.
As announced in December, the IOC Executive Board will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia at the end of May. They will recommend the sports for the 2020 Olympic Games Program. At that time, the IOC Executive Board, which reviewed seven applications for the 2020 games, including a combined baseball/softball submission, surprised the athletic world by dropping wrestling, from the list approved for the 2016 games in Rio.
Now, there are eight possible selections on the IOC-proclaimed short list for the Executive Board to consider in May. Prior to the December meeting, the IOC had said it would consider a single addition to the 2020 program.
Immediately, world and national wrestling federations, supported heavily by newspapers and major media around the globe, protested the wrestling decision, and began an intensive public relations blitz to convince the IOC to select wrestling as that single 2020 addition. There was no similar generation of support for softball at that time.
In the past the Executive Board would have recommended the sport to fill the 2020 program – and recommend a host city for selection by the IOC – but an informed source tells Spy that the Board was criticized after the last Executive Board meeting by IOC Members who complained that they had no say, only the ability to ratify the Executive Board recommendation.
Now, some sources anticipate that multiple sports will be recommended by the Board in May for the IOC’s final decision which will be made in September in Argentina at the IOC Congress. An expansion of the 2020 program would require concurrence by the full IOC membership.
At this time, these eight sports are competing for a single berth.
On April 14, a new baseball-softball federation will be formed in Tokyo, with the announced intention of a further combination of softball/baseball organizations into an expanded entity which will make a presentation to the Executive Board in May. .
According to a press release by the International Softball Federation, “international baseball and softball governing bodies will make a major announcement regarding the bid for inclusion at the 2020 Olympic Games at a media conference in Tokyo on 14 April. Details of a new combined baseball and softball federation to govern and take the sport forward in the 21st century will also be announced.” Their goal was reaffirmed in an April 8 follow-up press release.
With IBAF President and new World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Co-President Riccardo Fraccari presiding over the Congress—and ISF President and WBSC Co-President Don Porter leading a delegation of softball representatives—the Congress will act to ratify the new Constitution governing the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
According to the organizers, “This will finalize a long and detailed process to meet the stringent criteria of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whereby the two independent and recognized international federations currently governing baseball and softball separately shall merge into a single international federation.”
But, some IOC members believe that, notwithstanding the ISF declaration that it has the support of Major League Baseball, which has not agreed to alter its seasonal format to accommodate the Olympics, the combined effort lacks a critical ingredient – the guarantee that MLB professionals will play. This critical difference was noted in a recent Associated press report.
ISF has asked various national bodies to begin a media campaign in advance of the May board meeting. The combined sports are obviously hoping the Executive Board will reverse historical patterns of rejecting softball and baseball, and award the single berth to their combined entry, or make at least two recommendations which theoretically would enhance their chances.
But, unless the IOC expands the 2020 program, only one additional sport will be added, no matter how many sports are recommended by the Executive Board for an up or down vote in September.
It is not unreasonable to project that wrestling will be a favorite for selection; indeed, there was much speculation among informed sources, which found its way into the media, that were the Board to make a single recommendation in May, it would be wrestling.
Subsequent to the December meeting which ousted wrestling, the sport ousted its international president (wrestling was endorsed by Russian president Putin), and formed a reinstatement group of high profile names. Wrestling has a major advantage in its world-wide roots: 71 countries competed in wrestling at the London games in 2012, with 29 winning wrestling medals. It is not unreasonable to assume that IOC members from those countries will vote to select a sport in which they have competed.
Sadly, the last time the full IOC was asked to vote on softball, the voting ended in a tie at that 2005 meeting in Singapore, and softball was excluded from the 2012 Olympic program. Attempts to have softball included in the 2016 program failed to win support by the Executive Board, never gaining more than two of the eight votes needed. Now, unlike wrestling, softball and baseball are going forward in May with the same leadership which has failed in the past to secure a berth.
The prevalent question is whether softball/baseball has gained new friends on the IOC? Is softball still seen as a sport primarily involving eight to ten countries?
The WBC press release states: “The Tokyo Congress follows the recent successful World Baseball Classic (WBC) final in San Francisco, which broke all attendance, broadcast, viewing and commercial records for the event. The WBC was a showcase for the increasing popularity of the sport and significant efforts by baseball and softball officials and professional leagues to grow and globalize the game, especially for young people in parts of the world where there are limited options to play Olympic team sports.”
Yet, baseball also has failed in the past to garner IOC support.
Is there new information on the number of recommendations to be made by the Executive Board – and on the number of programs which the IOC may add in September? Is there substantive reason to believe that a combined entry has more appeal than the individual sports? The unassailable fact is that no member of the Executive Board has a background connection with softball. To be sure, ISF has formed softball alliances with more than 125 countries, but that outreach has not been converted into IOC support.
Spy has posed questions to ISF but has not received answers.
Hopefully, the April 14 press conference will identify the real world prospects for softball.
Having reported on four Olympics, Spy can say unequivocally that softball has been played at a level of expertise comparable to the Olympic standards of any sport. Spy continues to prefer that softball be reinstated as a single sport, and will be among the first to congratulate Porter if he is successful.
This segues to a parallel, equally compelling question: why has softball failed to make a winning case?
ps: somewhat irreverently, as this is being written, an epic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson keeps running through my head. RFH
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 27 D1 SOFTBALL
ESPN USA SOFTBALL POLL FEBRUARY 26 2013
3. Arizona State
5. Texas A&M
23. Virginia Tech
Alabama 11, Samford 0
Florida 3, South Florida 1
Hawaii vs Memphis (11pmET)
Texas A&M 8, Sam Houston State 3
Arkansas Pine Bluff 0, Ole Miss 4
Ole Miss 16, Srkansas Pine Bluff 0
George Washington vs Drexel DH
Hampton 10, Liberty 1
Hampton 10, Liberty 8 (8)
Lynn 4, Northwood 1
Lynn vs Northwood
NLST vs Long Beach State
UCF 3, Stetson 0
UTSA 3, Houston 2
COUNTDOWN TO OLYMPICS 2020
A Spy Editorial
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.”
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 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.