IOC drops baseball, softball from 2012 program

By STEPHEN WILSON
AP Sports Writer

SINGAPORE – Baseball and softball weren't big hits among International Olympic Committee members.

Both American-invented sports were dropped Friday from the program for the 2012 Olympics in London _ the first events cut from the Summer Games in 69 years. The IOC couldn't agree on their replacements.

Each of the 28 existing sports was put to a secret vote by the IOC, and baseball and softball failed to receive a majority required to stay on the program. The other 26 sports made the cut.

The IOC then voted from a waiting list of five sports: golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports. Squash and karate won the ballots, but then were rejected in final confirmation votes.

Requiring a two-thirds approval for inclusion on the program, squash was rejected 63-39 and karate 63-38.

It was a stunning conclusion to a long, complex voting procedure, and means that 26 sports will be contested at the London Games.

“I would like to thank you very much because this was a very, very important day for the International Olympic Committee,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said. “You have taken important decisions _ and this was a very democratic process.”

Baseball and softball, which will remain on the program for the 2008 Beijing Games, are the first sports eliminated from the Olympics since polo in 1936.

“I feel like somebody who has been thrown out _ it's certainly not a good feeling,” said Aldo Notari, the Italian president of the international baseball federation. “I don't think the IOC members know our sport deeply enough. But we'll continue to survive. We're looking ahead to Beijing and putting on a good show.”

Baseball, which became a medal sport in 1992, has been vulnerable because of the performance-enhancing drugs problem in the United States and top major league players don't play in the Olympics. Softball, a women's medal sport since 1996 that the U.S. has won all three times, has been in danger because of a perceived lack of global appeal and participation.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the two sports would be eligible to win their way back onto the Olympic program for 2016.

The absence of major league stars from the Olympics is a big issue for the IOC, which wants the world's top athletes from all sports in the games.

“The lack of the MLB players _ I think people have looked and said, `Well, all right, if there's to be a change, that seems to be the logic of it,'” British IOC member Craig Reedie said.

Baseball's steroid problem in the United States was cited as another factor. While Major League Baseball has toughened its drug-testing programs, they still fall far short of Olympic standards.

“Problems with doping in U.S. baseball probably cost the sport dearly,” Australian IOC member John Coates said.

Several IOC members also cited high stadium costs associated with both sports, saying baseball and softball venues have little post-games use in some host cities.

“I think they've made a big, big mistake,” said Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager who guided the U.S. team to the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Games. “Baseball is played by all countries now, and softball, too. I think that's really going to hurt the Olympics. I don't want to knock the other sports, but I think this is a big mistake. I am very disappointed.”

Don Porter, the American president of the international softball federation, was devastated by the vote.

“We thought that we had a lot of support,” he said. “The members told us we were getting support, but obviously we weren't.”

Porter said the decision goes back to Mexico City in 2002 when Rogge tried _ but failed _ to get baseball, softball and modern pentathlon removed.

“It took them three years and now they got us out,” he said. “I just think the IOC wanted some opportunity to introduce several new sports … and in order to do that, they had to remove a couple of sports and that's what they did today.”

Porter noted that modern pentathlon, which has been on the program since the first modern games in 1896, had tradition and European support on its side.

“Europe has strong voting power in the IOC,” he said. “They worked hard, they did the right thing to get enough to stay in.”

Cuba won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics, beating Australia. Japan, the bronze medalist, was one of the few nations that sent its top professional baseball players to Athens.

“This really hurts Japan,” Japan Olympic Committee secretary general Tsutomu Hayashi said. “Baseball and softball are both team sports that draw a lot of excitement and are the only ones that medals are a virtual certainty.”

The vote to eliminate sports from the Olympic program was kept secret. Not even the IOC members or sports federations were given the totals. The secrecy was requested by the international federations to avoid any ranking or embarrassment for any sports which just barely made the cut.

Rogge said an independent official was sending the results by sealed envelope to an IOC notary in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rogge will only open the envelope in the case of a voting dispute.

Senior Canadian member Dick Pound harshly criticized the secrecy, saying it undermined the IOC's moves for openness.

“What kind of message does the IOC send when there is complete secrecy on an issue that is important to the world?” Pound said.