September 02, 2005

Oh No! They've Cut (men's) Softball!

As noted here earlier, the USOC is attempting to lobby for softball's reinstatement to the 2012 summer Olympics. As part of that effort, a USOC delegation went down to the recent PASO (Pan American Sports Organization) meetings, to lobby IOC members to support their crusade.

If you read the sports news, you might think that things went very, very badly. The AFP (via Yahoo! News) is reporting that PASO, which governs the quadrennial Pan American Games, decided to drop softball from its programme as well. An independent story repeats this statement at SLAM! Sports.

More Pan Am Cuts

Inline (roller) hockey and racquetball have also been dropped from the Pan Am Games for 2007, and a number of non-Olympic events have been added. The Yahoo! News article states that slalom canoe/kayak was also dropped for 2007, but in fact it has never been part of the Pan Am Games.

Also, it's a technical point, but slalom canoe/kayak is not, in Olympic terms, a sport, but rather a discipline of canoe/kayak.

Something's been left out here, though. Softball Canada's web site is reporting very clearly that men's softball has been removed from the programme. The PASO press release announcing the addition of indoor football still lists softball on the programme, and the description of the sport on the Rio 2007 web site states:

Softball is more popular among women, who are the only players to take part in the Pan-american Games.

I'm forced to conclude that two independent news articles reported on the decision to drop softball from the Pan Am Games without making any distinction between men's softball (which has never been in the Olympics) and women's softball (which is apparently still part of the Pan Am Games). There are a few hints in the Slam! article, since it mentions that Canada has won every Pan Am gold medal since 1979. That's only true in men's softball, so perhaps the reader is supposed to guess that the article only applies to men's softball. But both articles link the PASO decision to the earlier IOC decision, which confuses the issue. Isn't it kind of critical to the story to note that women's softball has not been cut from the Pan Am Games? Pretty shoddy reporting, in my opinion.

Anyway, men's softball is definitely on the skids, having recently been dropped from even the Canada Games. (Incidentally, my local paper also reported that cut as if the whole sport had been removed, too, when in fact women's softball is still in the Canada Games. Anybody see a pattern here?) So things look pretty bleak for men's softball, which is OK with me. Really, softball and baseball are similar enough that it's a bit stupid having both in a multisport games. I would actually rather see women's baseball than softball, but the participation numbers don't warrant that switch, and not everybody shares my opinion. So be it.

However, I can actually see one glimmer of a possibility for the future of elite men's softball: get yourself on the Olympic programme. If women's softball can get themselves reinstated as a sport, then they've got their foot in the door. Once a sport is on the programme, they are sometimes able to add disciplines (like aquatics added synchro, gymnastics added trampoline, and cycling is adding BMX). For softball to add a men's discipline will require adding one medal and about 120 athletes to their quota. That won't be easy, but it doesn't require changes to the Olympic Charter, and doesn't require the approval of the IOC delegates at a general assembly. Furthermore, the removal of baseball has created exactly that much room under the cap.

I can imagine some of you asking yourselves: why would women's softball be interested in having men's softball added to the programme? I grant that some of the Olympic spotlight would be unfairly diverted from the women's game (as illustrated by the news stories I quoted above). I also grant that many male-dominated Olympic sports have made only token efforts to include a women's discipline. But this isn't just about doing men's softball a favour. If softball could pull this off — and I have no idea if they are even thinking about it — it would also help them stay on the Olympic programme, in my opinion. That's because it would, in the long term, broaden their base of international participation. Furthermore, including men's softball would serve to further distance the Olympic sport from baseball and its multitude of image problems.

No comments: