Softball federation hopeful for 2012, beyond
ATHENS, Greece -- The story going around is that softball's place in the Olympics is in jeopardy and that the Americans made things worse by coming to Athens and beating everyone in sight.
International Softball Foundation president Don Porter has heard it often, but shrugs it off. He knows the people saying it aren't the ones who matter most -- and what those folks are saying is a lot more encouraging.
"In talking with IOC members and others that are a lot closer to the situation, I think our sport is in good shape,'' Porter said. "I'm optimistic.''
The softball-is-in-trouble notion began two years ago, when the sport was among three called on the carpet by the International Olympic Committee. Along with the federations of baseball and modern pentathlon, softball's governing body went to a meeting in Mexico to explain why the sport should remain in the Summer Games after Athens.
But the IOC changed gears. Earlier this summer, they decided instead to reevaluate all 28 sports, each facing the same criteria. A vote will be taken at a general session in Singapore next July.
So, yes, softball is in a battle -- yet, technically, it's the same one gymnastics and swimming are facing to get into the 2012 Games.
"We're very comfortable with the IOC's plan,'' Porter said. "There are a number of (criteria) we've already met or even surpassed.''
When the U.S. team steamrolled through the Olympic field, allowing just one run, some people considered it a problem. The talent gap that seemed to have narrowed in Sydney, where the Americans lost three straight games, was as wide as ever.
Even the runner-up Australians lamented all the advantages the U.S. team has. It became such a hot topic that the women hailed as the new Dream Team felt compelled to defend themselves.
"We know how great a sport softball is,'' said Laura Berg, who has been in all three Olympic softball tournaments. "We believe that we belong in the games. It's a disappointment that it's on the chopping block.''
Porter said the U.S. dominance rarely comes up in his discussions. The main jabs are that the game isn't global enough and two offshoot issues: whether enough people are paying attention and the viability of venues after the Games end.
The softball federation's response is that it is trying. The federation sent $750,000 in equipment to more than 60 countries last year and aims to top that this year. The group also frequently sends coaches overseas to hold clinics and seminars.
"If we can keep it up, we'll see the level rise on the competitive side as well as the global side,'' Porter said.
Softball also faces a perception problem. Many Europeans consider it the female version of baseball. Europe and Africa are the two continents where softball has made the fewest inroads -- and, in turn, has the least support within the IOC.
"What we have to do is educate them,'' Porter said.
The Olympics was the perfect opportunity. The softball federation hosted more than three dozen IOC members and many more heads of national organization committees. IOC president Jacques Rogge attended the finals.
"I think he liked what he saw -- how our sport is played, how intense it is, the competitive aspect of our athletes,'' Porter said.
He also likes to remind everyone that the IOC is supposed to be adding female sports, not cutting them. Another point is that there has never been a failed drug test in more than 20 years of testing.
Porter knows what he's up against to keep softball in the Olympics because he went through it all before while trying to get softball into the Olympics in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
"We can't sit still,'' he said. "We're in competition with other sports and with a dozen others that want to get into the Olympic program. I know we can never take anything for granted.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press