You’re out! Softball’s Olympic Odyssey
Softball, an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008, was dropped from the Summer Games of 2012 and 2016. The reason was never made clear, but speculation was that it was not “universal” enough. Or, it lacked competitiveness outside of North America. Or, maybe it was too close to baseball, another sport dropped from the Olympic program after 2008.
Whatever it might be, it was a big disappointment to the millions of young female athletes who saw their Olympic dreams fade away, just as it was for those who persevered for 30 years just to get the sport on the program. Our exclusion hurt deeply, but we quickly came to realize that this was not the end, just a new beginning for softball.
Softball is still an Olympic sport, even though it’s not on the next two Games schedule (2012 and 2016). We will develop a strategy that will keep the current programs active while looking to the future to find the key that will help us regain Olympic status.
When softball was evaluated in 2005 along with the other 27 sports of the Summer Olympic program, a vote to either retain or drop sports was taken by the IOC. The short of it was that softball lost its spot by one vote. Losing by one or ten is still losing and the fight to regain Olympic status has not been easy or successful so far.
Looking back, in the minds of those organizing and playing the sport, the four Olympics that softball did participate in as a medal sport were successful. In fact, in previous evaluations softball ranked – in most categories – within the top ten or twelve of the 28 sports. Like the Olympic movement itself, softball enriches and changes lives.
During its Olympic play, the sport made a number of changes to the game that made it more interesting (tiebreaker) and TV-friendly (games under two hours and a 20 second clock on the pitcher), while interjecting more scoring, fewer strikeouts, and displaying the great competitive play of elite female athletes.
With no positive doping cases in any of its four Olympic appearances, softball has been a model citizen on the international sporting landscape and has its sights set on remaining the most inclusive team sport on the planet.
When softball was singled out for Olympic status in the 1990s, female participation in the Olympics was still not equal with men. At the time there were less than 75 countries organizing the sport. Soon after the first Olympic competition over 100 countries were organizing and playing softball, and the number is still growing. Losing the Olympic status, however, has caused a slowdown, mainly from the loss of Olympic revenue and sponsorships at both the international and national federation levels.
Softball will survive and continue to be organized and played in over 120 countries and at a number of multi-sport Games similar to the Olympics, but on a regional or continental basis. The sport will have its world championships and world cup events as well as regional championships on all five continents, plus national competitions and the local grassroots programs.
Softball continues to open doors in many parts of the world for young boys and girls to play in the many disciplines of the sport: fast pitch, slow pitch, modified pitch, and beach, arena, and wheelchair. Young people are eager to take on new sport activities but in many countries funding and equipment are not always available. To overcome these drawbacks, the International Softball Federation provided development support with over $3.5 million dollars’ worth of equipment to more than 90 countries during the past four years.
Softball today is more than a game. It’s an important part of the lives of nearly 40 million people around the world. So far, our odyssey has been short, but we have come a long way. We are looking forward to the rest of the journey in the spirit of softball and the spirit of Olympism.
Mr. Porter has been the president of the International Softball Federation since 1987, having been reelected five times. He also served as the first secretary general of the World Games, a multi-sport event encompassing 30 sports and over 100 countries. He is also a past member of the Board of Directors of the United States Olympic Committee.