She cited several valid factors, like the IOC wanting to make room for other sports and the ongoing tensions between the MLB and the IOC concerning both doping and not releasing top athletes to compete in the Games.
The two sports that were supposed to replace baseball and softball – golf and rugby – were not voted in after all at the 2005 meeting in Singapore.
Some official IOC members also voiced concerns about American dominance in softball and the lack of top talent participating in baseball.
The U.S. had taken softball gold in three consecutive games – 1996, 2000, and 2004.
But around the time of this decision, however, softball had expanded to other countries, and competitors like China, Japan, and Australia were now giving the Americans a run for their money.
The Japanese softball team won the gold in 2008, with the U.S. taking silver.
Critics of the IOC decision cited basketball as an example, saying that the sport wasn’t under consideration for exclusion even though Americans dominated it as well.
Again, baseball’s problem was the inverse of softball – not too much dominance at the Summer Games, but not enough.
MLB managers wouldn’t let their players leave mid-season to play in the Olympics, so, the IOC argued, the best baseball players in the world weren’t competing.
It was a blow for both sports, but softball players were acutely impacted.
MLB is popular at home and abroad, attracting the best players in the world and compensating them for their efforts.
Although softball players at the time had the National Pro Fastpitch league (NPF) and other international competitions, the sport simply couldn’t have the global visibility nor economic opportunities anywhere near those of baseball without a spot at the Olympics.
And lack of visibility means significantly fewer opportunities to grow both the sport itself and the individual brands of its stars.
This lack of international exposure and recognition of their greatness excludes many top softball athletes from the financial rewards that similarly talented athletes in other sports have access to after competing on the Olympic stage.
After being voted out, enthusiastic baseball and softball supporters in countries around the world campaigned in various capacities to get the two sports back in the Summer Games.
Countries where baseball and softball are most popular, like the U.S., Cuba, Japan, China, South Korea, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), and Australia, mounted the strongest efforts to bring the two sports back into the fold.
But support also came from countries where baseball and softball aren’t historically popular, like Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Advocates were especially appreciative of these European efforts to bring baseball and softball back.
That’s because the Europe-heavy IOC said long-said that baseball and softball were only popular in the Americas, Asia, and Australia. It was one of the primary reasons for the sports’ exclusion in 2005.
In 2013, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and the International Softball Federation (ISF) combined to form the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
The two federations joined up expressly to campaign for baseball and softball’s reinstatement to the Olympics.
The WBSC is now recognized as the international authority on both baseball and softball, organizing competitions for national teams to play each other.
Due to the work of the WBSC and individual nations to keep baseball and softball participation alive, the two sports were added to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2021.
Japan’s influence as the host of the Summer Games was integral in the decision. Baseball and softball are two of the most popular sports in the country, and organizers were betting on thousands of fans to turn up and watch the competitors in Tokyo.
Reinstatement for the Tokyo Summer Games was a victory, but there were some limits. Only six teams competed in each sport, instead of the previous eight.
Despite such constraints, the 2021 Games saw competition higher than ever in baseball and softball, with Japan taking gold and the US taking silver in both sports.
The many close games that led to the medal rounds should help our cause for eventual reinstatement – especially as anti-competitive US dominance in softball has long been a pillar of the IOC’s argument against making it a permanent Olympic fixture.
#What the Future Holds for Olympic Baseball and Softball
It should be noted that although they’re two different sports, the IOC views baseball and softball as male and female versions of one sport. For the sake of parity, they lump baseball and softball together.
Although USA softball does field a men’s national softball team, and USA Baseball has a women’s national baseball team, they don’t compete at the Olympics.
Whether the two sports will ever be open to both men and women in the Olympics remains to be seen – for now, many would argue that they’re having a tough enough time getting men’s baseball and women’s softball to stay on the program.
After years of struggling to put baseball and softball back in the Olympics, athletes and fans the world over will be disappointed yet again at the Summer Games in Paris in 2024.
Both sports are not in the program.
If history is any guide, the IOC will continue to push back against our two sports, despite their obvious international appeal.
We can only hope that baseball and softball continue to grow in popularity and exposure outside of the Olympic sphere – in amateur, professional, and national competitions.
After all, Olympics or not, the ultimate goal is fostering participation in baseball and softball at all levels, all over the world.
Even though Baseball and softball will not appear at Paris 2024, ballplayers are inspired to keep grinding by the possibility of playing at storied Dodger Stadium at the Los Angeles 2028 games.
The International Olympic Committee will soon decide 2028’s core program, and our favorite bat and ball sports do still have a chance to be voted back for good.
And, if not, local organizers in LA should follow the footsteps of their Tokyo predecessors and return baseball and softball on a one-off basis at least.
As of writing this though, the Olympic hopes and dreams of our sports are like a high flyball into right-centerfield – up in the air.
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