The 2012 London Olympic Games had such a crowded schedule that people may not have noticed that baseball and softball were nowhere to be found.
Both sports have been eliminated from the Olympics for the 2012 and 2016 cycles. Golf and rugby are sports being added for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
So why was baseball eliminated as an Olympic sport in the first place?
During an interview with mlb.com in 2008, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge offered an explanation. “To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible,” Rogge said. “You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met.”
Universality? Well, even Uganda now has a baseball team that competed in and actually won a game in the 2012 Little League World Series. How is that for having a global outreach? The fact is baseball has a fervent following in many parts of the world that eclipses the allegiance fans have to many other Olympic sports. How many nations have a viable table tennis team or have a large fan base for equestrian sports? The United States, Japan and South Korea are three nations that carry a lot of clout and view baseball as an important part of their cultural heritage, as well as a medal-winning opportunity. Joining these countries as baseball-playing nations are Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Columbia, Cuba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, among others. If the combined GDP of these nations is any indication, then these are heavyweight, vital, advanced nations. There has to be a European bias in suggesting baseball doesn’t have universal appeal.
Rogge also said during the interview that baseball needed to have big names on its rosters if it wanted to be included in the Olympics. “We have (Roger) Federer, (Rafael) Nadal in tennis, LeBron James in basketball. We have the best cyclists. Ronaldinho is here in football. We want these guys at the Games. We’re not saying it should be an entire Major League team, but we want the top athletes here at the Olympics.”
Soccer teams at the Olympics are composed of players who are under 23 years old, except for three older players who are allowed on these teams. So most of the biggest names in soccer don’t participate in the Olympics on the men’s side and that doesn’t appear to be a problem. Why the hang-up over whether MLB players are there, especially since so many minor league players who will be future MLB stars would populate the various rosters?
If there is an insistence that MLB players be there to give the sport pizzazz, then maybe MLB could interrupt its season to accommodate the demands of the IOC. This would involve abandoning the All-Star Game during Olympic years (no great loss) and shortening the schedule to maybe 150 games or the old traditional 154 games (quite an economic sacrifice).
As to Rogge’s third point about doping, it is true baseball has had a significant problem with performance enhancing drugs. But there is testing in baseball now and many other sports such as cycling, weightlifting and track-and-field have had similar difficulties with PEDs.
The country most adversely impacted by the elimination of baseball as an Olympic sport was not the U.S. or Japan or South Korea. It was Cuba. Baseball became an official Olympic sport at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain. From 1992-2008, Cuba won three gold medals and two silver medals in five Summer Olympic Games, an amazing record of success. The U.S. and South Korea won only one gold medal each, and the U.S. and Japan each won three medals overall.
Although baseball and softball are not formally linked, we know that when baseball is restored, the female equivalent of the sport will likewise be returned. The International Softball Federation conceivably could act on its own to have its sport returned for 2020, but in all likelihood its fate rests with that of baseball.
Baseball has many admirers from countries that carry a lot of influence. If these powerful countries act in unison, there is no way the IOC can continue to deny baseball its rightful place as a bona fide Olympic sport.