Friday, July 08, 2005

Olympic Proportions

On Thursday, I was looking at a map of London that showed the sites of the various Olympic events. Of course there were more important things to focus on in London on Thursday, but the Times' Sports section showed the map, so there I was. One site in particular stood out: baseball. How quaint. How veddy, veddy quaint. I thought that if I could manage to find myself in London in the Summer of '12, I'd go catch a game, and enjoy the return of rounders to England.

But my hypothetical trip has been cancelled thanks to the International Olympic Committee. The IOC voted in Singapore on Friday that baseball and softball would be dropped from the 2012 Games, the first sports dropped since polo 69 years ago. Their replacements? The sports of nonexistent and not enough votes. Even though baseball and softball have been kicked out, none of the five sports trying to get in (golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports) were deemed worthy replacements.

All of this, mind you, was decided courtesy of secret votes. The UN holds votes on economic sanctions and military interventions in the wide open, but the IOC needs a secret vote to keep out roller skating. Heaven forbid the world knew that the Finnish IOC representative voted against All Skate.

Baseball has only been an "official" Olympic sport since 1992. It was an "exhibition" sport in 1912 (Stockholm), as well as in 1936 (Berlin), 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne) and 1964 (Tokyo). Baseball became a "demonstration" sport in 1984 (Los Angeles), a title it held until 1992 (Barcelona), when Anthony Garciaparra (soon to be Nomar), Jason Giambi, Jason Varitek and others played on the first "official" US Olympic baseball team.

So why, in the 100th anniversary year of its first appearance is Olympic baseball on the outs? Two of the commonly cited reasons for keeping baseball out are the lack of Major League stars on the roster and the steroid scandal that has enveloped the sport over the past few years.

According to British IOC member Craig Reedie, "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.'"

What does that mean? If there's to be a change? Does that mean that they were told to drop it, and then come up with a reason? I'm not even sure where the logic is there, but he seems to be focusing on the lack of MLB players.

But why? The US Olympic basketball team, stocked with NBA players, was awful in 2004. We'd be better off with motivated college players who trained together for a while, and hadn't tasted the stupefying effects of guaranteed NBA millions. Besides, the Olympics are conveniently held after the NBA season ends, but they are right in the middle of the baseball season. Yes, NHL players do stop playing in order to participate in the Winter Olympics, but Olympic hockey is arguably better than a midseason NHL game, when they have them.

As for steroids, Australian IOC member John Coates said, "Problems with doping in U.S. baseball probably cost the sport dearly." Dear sir, exactly who's on drugs now?

First of all, the IOC is complaining that there are no major leaguers in the Olympics. So why should they care if there are/were drugs in MLB? Given that the roster would largely be made up of minor leaguers (at least the US squad), there's no real cause for concern, because the minors have had a more stringent policy in place for some time. And, the Olympics will conduct their own testing program, so what gives? Are they afraid that a nearly 50-year old Barry Bonds will try to make the 2012 squad? And why drag softball down with it?

Second, does the IOC have any evidence that international/Olympic play has been infiltrated by drugs? Because if not, they certainly have plenty of other areas to clean up first. How many more track and field stars will test positive for doping? Or swimmers? Or cyclists? Will they ban sprinting in the Olympics because some Americans have been caught doping? This seems like too harsh a tactic for sprinting, so why punish baseball globally? And in case they hadn't noticed, the US baseball team didn't even make the 2004 Olympics. Not exactly the product of a performance enhancing drug culture.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said, "We are now an Olympics of 26 sports." These sports include judo, where it's legal to choke someone into submission. Surely an international game of baseball would do more to improve global affairs than two adversaries choking each other.


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