Gender equality, with concurrent men’s and women’s tournaments staged in the same arena, as in tennis, could be a key element in the campaign by Baseball and Softball to return to the Olympic Games in 2020.
As with all rival sports bidding for the prized platform, such as squash and recently jilted wrestling, the commercial rewards are substantial, never mind the prestige.
At the Grand Prince Hotel in Tokyo on Saturday, the congress of the International Baseball Federation will conclude and mutually ratify two years of negotiation with the International Softball Federation to create a new joint world governing body—World Baseball-Softball Confederation.
Removed from the Olympic program at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session at Copenhagen in 2009, the two mirrored sports believed their amalgamation will present a powerful case for reinstatement when the IOC votes on additions at September’s Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Heading the merger are respective co-presidents of the new body, Riccardo Fraccari (baseball) and Don Porter (softball). Being personally sympathetic to Softball—strangely as a predominantly women’s sport, deleted in 2009—the flaw which I detect in the campaign is the absence of a charismatic female public figure to front their presentation at three crucial gatherings over the coming four months.
Why not, for instance, attempt to enlist former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, one of the most conspicuous personalities in America: dazzling sportswoman (among other attributes) who is about to enjoy her membership of Augusta National during the Masters. It is her sort of dynamism as advocate that might have helped the Baseball-Softball alliance to swing some votes . She could have had far more impact than an innocent Oprah Winfrey, vainly wheeled out by Chicago as cheerleader in 2009.
For sure, there will be emotional input from Softball’s secretary general Beng Choo Low, of Malaysia, and from Maria Soto, Venezuelan chair of their athletes commission, who competed at Beijing ‘08. Yet we need to be talking a high-mileage celebrity here. In the election of golf and rugby, Michelle Wie and Jonah Lomu were prominent advocates
Following Saturday’s formal bureaucracy, three significant stage appearances lie ahead:
• The SportAccord Convention at St. Petersburg, Russia, at the end of May, when bidders will address the IOC Executive Board.
• The pre-Session talk-fest at Lausanne, Switzerland, in early July, when presidential candidates to succeed Jacques Rogge and host city bidders for 2020 will freely consort with those IOC members who choose to attend, but to which assembly aspiring sports have yet to be formally invited.
• The final decisive presentation for all three elections is scheduled in Buenos Aires in September.
Following Tokyo’s gathering, the newly established World Baseball-Softball Confederation will begin ernest debate on the creation of a new combined joint-competition circuit at shared venues, a pivotal clincher on the IOC’s gender-equality policy. However, that goes hand in hand with finding the funding necessary for a commercial platform with sponsorship and television backing.
That is where Softball will most benefit from liaison with Baseball, for which attendances at professional events far exceed Softball’s average of around 10,000 for top games. The IOC, as much cash-orientated as sports-idealistic, carefully measures live and TV viewing figures. There is already a new contract with ESPN for a six-team Softball League, yet the sport has yet to find a superstar like Serena Williams or Steffi Graf.
On global numbers, Softball compares well with rival sports: 127 National Federations, 100 of these affiliated to NOCs, and some 8.5 million registered competitors .
There remains the obstacle of two-nation Softball dominance: Japan, Beijing winners and World Champions in 2011, and the USA.
Nonetheless, Porter, Softball’s veteran president, is optimistic about both readmission and expansion.
“The new federation is exciting—it enables us to combine the strength of both sports,” he says. “The IOC looks for ‘added value’ to the Olympic program, and we believe we are offering this.”
Baseball’s Fraccari adds: “This is more than simply a combined federation. It embraces the dreams of millions of men and women, boys and girls, from around the world with ambition to be part of the Olympic Games, the pinnacle of sporting excellence.”
This article by David Miller first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl Heinz-Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Mr. Heinz-Huba.