Plan announced on eve of 2016 vote
BERLIN -- International softball officials announced a new initiative Wednesday to develop the game across Africa, a day before a crucial decision on the sport's bid for Olympic reinstatement.
The International Softball Federation signed an agreement with the Olympafrica foundation to provide equipment and coaches in 14 countries where the sport is not currently played -- Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Lesotho, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Sudan and Zambia.
Olympafrica works with the IOC and other bodies to provide coaching and facilities to African Olympic Committees. In April, the ISF announced a $100,000 grant for the sport in Africa.
"This is the latest example of softball's commitment to promoting sport in developing countries," ISF president Don Porter said, hoping to make an impact with the IOC ahead of Thursday's decision on which two sports to recommend for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics.
Softball and baseball are seeking a return to the Olympics after being voted off the program four years ago for the 2012 London Games. They are competing against golf, rugby, karate, squash and roller sports. The IOC executive board will choose two to put forward for a vote by the full IOC in Copenhagen in October.
Rugby sevens and golf have been considered the favorites.
Softball survived an initial vote for exclusion from the Olympics in 2002 before being dropped in 2005 and losing a first attempt at reinstatement in 2006.
Softball, a women's event that debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has lobbied aggressively and focused on spreading the sport among youth and women in the Muslim world and developing countries, and staying free of doping scandals. It has offered to organize a men's Olympic tournament as well if readmitted by the IOC.
Crucial to federations like the ISF are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in Olympic revenues to sustain the sport, particularly at a time of global recession and a drop in sponsorship.
"Only a few big federations are well off," Porter said. "We don't have high-end sponsorship. Sponsors are going down the drain these days. National federations have their funding shortchanged if they are not an Olympic sport. We have to look at other sources of revenue and there is not a lot out there presently."
Even if softball fails to make the cut Thursday, Porter said the international focus will continue and the federation will keep lobbying right up until the final vote in Copenhagen.
"We don't give up," he said. "Our sport will go on. It may be more difficult, yes, but we will continue to grow and develop in more countries."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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