Finch: Softball 'too good not to prevail'
OKLAHOMA CITY -- On a day when her sport lost another bid to get back into the Olympics, U.S. softball star Jennie Finch vowed to fight on.
A two-time Olympian, Finch called Thursday a heartbreaking day, particularly for young players around the world who dreamed of playing at the sport's highest level.
Softball was added to the Olympics at Atlanta in 1996 and was a part of the last four Games, with the United States winning three gold medals before Japan's victory last summer in Beijing.
In 2005, softball and baseball became the first sports in 69 years to be dropped from the Olympics, beginning with the 2012 London Games. Both lost appeals for reinstatement in 2006 and then set their sights on this year's vote to get back on the program for 2016.
Instead, International Olympic leaders voted to recommend that golf and rugby be added to the 2016 Games, while softball, baseball and three other sports were left out.
"We have to rebound and I think our sport is too good not to prevail and our sport will continue on," Finch said during a conference call. "There will be a USA Softball and there will still be international softball, and we're looking forward to world championships next summer and the stage the world will have to showcase how great our sport is and to prove that we do belong in the Olympics. This fight isn't over."
Neither baseball nor softball ever got more than two of the eight votes needed in seven rounds of secret-ballot voting.
"I think the main thing is to just look at this as not a deal-breaker but as motivation to keep this sport growing and keep it going," said Stanford's Ashley Hansen, one of 10 rookies on the U.S. national team this summer.
IOC president Jacques Rogge noted that the five rejected sports would not be reconsidered even if both golf and rugby aren't added.
"We're not going to give up," International Softball Federation president Don Porter said. "Why they didn't support us, we'd like to find out why and try to do whatever is necessary to get those IOC members to support us.
International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller expressed disappointment that softball had distanced itself from baseball following the 2005 vote, rejecting an offer of a joint Olympic bid. Instead, softball mounted a campaign to plant seeds for the sport in places like the Middle East and Africa and touted its clean doping record.
"This wasn't about using the Olympics to grow the game of baseball," Schiller said. "This was about having the opportunity for people to play on this big stage. And for many, many countries, like Cuba and others, this is very important to them."
Major League Baseball and USA Baseball immediately turned their focus to the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and beyond.
"Baseball has enjoyed great international growth in recent years and today's decision by the IOC will not deter us from continuing our efforts to grow the game globally," MLB said in its statement.
USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler added that "participation at all levels of baseball continues to grow, and the success of the World Baseball Classic is undeniable proof that ours is a sport with worldwide appeal."
Rogge said in Beijing he wanted to see major league stars such as New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Olympics. Major League Baseball had acknowledged how difficult it would be to interrupt its season but also vowed to work with Schiller.
The 2008 bronze-winning U.S. Olympic players were top minor leaguers and one college standout. They were discouraged at the time to hear Rogge say major league participation would likely be necessary to bring baseball back. Ballpark operation costs for baseball and softball were another concern of the IOC.
Among the ideas tossed around for baseball to allow major leaguers' involvement was an approximate five-day All-Star break and five-day Olympic tournament, ensuring little disruption to the 162-game schedule. Yet officials realized that would have worked best if Chicago hosts the 2016 Games.
Softball is on strong footing in America, with a vibrant youth program and a continually growing college game that sets attendance records regularly at the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
The concern is the sport's future outside the U.S.
"I think our biggest fear in this is it will be difficult for us, being part of the international federation, to be able to promote throughout the world," said Ron Radigonda, executive director of the Amateur Softball Association of America. He worried about the ability of developing countries to build softball as a sport.
Radigonda also questioned why so many sports had to be left out.
"I really have no issue with the sports that were selected. They certainly have their place on a world stage, but I also believe that softball and squash and karate and other sports do as well," Radigonda said. "I think that the limiting of sports to 28 is really a question that needs to be raised."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press