IOC won't remove any sports, for now

Updated: May 17, 2004, 10:20 AM ET
Associated Press

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Baseball, softball and modern pentathlon were assured Monday they will remain on the Olympic program at least through the 2008 Beijing Games.

The International Olympic Committee said, barring serious ethical violations or failure to uphold anti-doping rules, no sports will be dropped before the games of 2012.

The decision, announced by IOC president Jacques Rogge at the opening of a three-day executive board meeting, gives endangered sports more breathing space as they try to preserve their Olympic status.

Rogge said the IOC will review all the sports after this summer's Athens Olympics and decide on the 2012 program at its session in Singapore in July 2005. Meantime, the list of 28 Olympic sports will stay unchanged for Beijing.

Baseball, softball and modern pentathlon had been recommended for exclusion by an IOC panel in 2002. At a meeting in Mexico City, the IOC decided to put off a decision until after Athens, but Rogge said at the time the three sports could still be dropped for Beijing.

"I wish they had done this two years ago," said Don Porter, the American president of the international softball federation. "We've been on pins and needles ever since."

Klaus Schormann, head of the international modern pentathlon union, said "there was always a doubt in the back of our mind, but IOC members have always supported our sport."

Aldo Notari, the Italian head of the International Baseball Federation, added: "I was always optimistic, but there was always the fear that something bad could happen. We'll be sleeping better for the next few nights."

Rogge cited a rule in the IOC charter stating no sports can be added to an Olympics less than seven years before the games. It had been unclear whether the rule also applied to the removal of sports.

Rogge said sports could be eliminated for Beijing only for serious ethical breaches or failure to sign the World Anti-Doping Code. Soccer and cycling are the only summer sports yet to sign the code, which sets out uniform drug-testing rules and sanctions, but have promised to do so before the Athens Games in August.

Removal of a sport would require a vote of the full IOC membership, Rogge said. The last sport dropped from the Summer Olympics was polo in 1936.

Baseball has been a medal sport since 1992. Softball, a women-only event, was added in 1996. Modern pentathlon, a five-sport discipline created by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin, was introduced in 1912.

In 2002, a panel appointed by Rogge proposed that the three sports be dropped because of lack of global popularity, high venue costs and, in the case of baseball, the absence of top major league players.

Unlike basketball and hockey, baseball does not send its top U.S.-based professionals to the Olympics. The Olympics are played during the major league season, and commissioner Bud Selig said the season cannot be stopped to allow players to join Olympic teams.

"If the best players don't go to Beijing, then comes the danger," Notari said. "Major league baseball understands the problem and is working together with us."

The ruling on Olympic sports came a day before the IOC board names a shortlist of finalists in the bidding to host the 2012 Summer Games. With nine cities in the running, the board is expected to eliminate at least three candidates and possibly as many as five.

Four cities are virtually assured of making the cut: Paris, London, New York and Madrid, Spain. One definitely won't: Havana.

That leaves four cities on the bubble: Moscow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Istanbul, Turkey; and Leipzig, Germany. At least two could be dropped. The host city will be selected in July 2005 in Singapore.

Paris, which last hosted the Olympics in 1924, is viewed as the front-runner. New York, which has never staged the Olympics, has to contend with anti-American sentiment fueled by the invasion of Iraq and the geographical disadvantage of having the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press