In stating his case for including softball in the 2020 Olympics, the president of the International Softball Federation says the sport would add value to the games and provide opportunities for young women around the world to pursue their athletic dreams.
Don Porter, the top official with softball's international governing body, attended the World Cup of Softball on Saturday and spoke with The Associated Press less than two months before the International Olympic Committee will consider a combined bid by softball and baseball to return to the games.
The baseball/softball effort is competing with bids from wrestling and squash to be included on the program for the 2020 Olympics. The IOC vote will come during its meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sept. 8.
Softball made its Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996. The U.S. won the gold medal that year, then again in 2000 in Sydney and in 2004 in Athens. Japan beat the U.S. for the gold in 2008 in Beijing, after the IOC voted in July 2005 to drop softball and baseball from the Olympics.
After that IOC vote, Porter said he received hundreds of emails from girls and women around the world expressing sorrow that they had lost a possible opportunity to someday compete in the Olympics.
"I think myself, and others who have been involved and are involved, we just said, 'Hey, we've got to bring the Olympic dreams back.' That's more important than anything else, at least from our standpoint," Porter said. "We understand the economic side and all of the issues that are involved, but we just feel that you sit there and look at those emails, and I've got them stacked on my desk . that it tells me that we can't give up. It's important that we do what we can to bring those dreams back."
Porter initially resisted the idea of combining softball's bid for Olympic reinstatement with that of baseball, but changed his mind after speaking with IOC members who suggested doing so would be a good idea. Thus the World Baseball Softball Confederation was born.
Focusing on the positives
The softball/baseball campaign is political, but Porter said the WBSC is trying to focus on the positives of including their sports on the Olympic program. Porter said the two federations have about 130 member nations between them.
"This is the type of politics that you'd like to try to keep away from, but you can't there, because it's there and you have to be there and do what you can to convince the IOC members about your plans and tell them about what you're going to present on Sept. 8," he said.
Softball's image for years, fair or not, was that it was a sport dominated by the U.S. That's not the case, Porter said, noting that softball has made considerable inroads in South America and Asia, and that it's also taken root in some predominantly Muslim nations, where the sport doesn't clash with their culture.
Softball's 2014 World Championships will be held in The Netherlands, taking one of the sport's marquee events to Europe, where it has struggled to gain acceptance.
"Softball is a worldwide sport," Porter said. "We have over 50 million boys, girls, men and women playing baseball and softball. We're the largest sport, combined, that is not on the Olympic program currently.
"Europe is very important, especially from the Olympic standpoint, because Europe has the majority of votes within the International Olympic Committee. We want to, and certainly have been, encourage greater development in Europe. That's why we felt having the World Championship there was important."
The IOC received considerable backlash when it opted to drop wrestling from the Olympic program and Porter acknowledges that makes the softball/baseball campaign more challenging.
"Wrestling is a great sport," he said. "It was one of the original Olympic sports. It was unfortunate what happened, but they've been given an opportunity to come back, like we have. . It probably is going to be more difficult (for softball/baseball) because there is a lot of sympathy for wrestling, for a lot of reasons. Maybe that's what we're going to be up against.
"But we hope to be able, in our campaign, to get a message across that we feel is very positive as to what we can add to the Olympic program and hopefully get the vote in September."