ISF Campaigns For Return Of Softball To Olympics

Wednesday, June 27th 2007, 6:54 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The International Softball Federation announced a ``Back Softball'' campaign Wednesday to push for the sport to be reinstated for the 2016 Olympic Games.

``We've got great athletes. Young athletes in all parts of the world are playing the sport, and we want to make sure that people are aware that it is a sport that is very competitive and it's a worldwide sport,'' ISF President Don Porter said by phone from the Netherlands, where the announcement was made. ``We want to be back in the Olympic program.''

Porter said the federation is focused on spreading softball to more countries in different areas of the world, developing the sport so more countries are able to compete at the highest level and raising awareness of softball around the globe.

``We want to get on and get moving because we want to see our sport back in the Olympic program after 2012,'' Porter said.

After three rounds in the Olympics, softball was eliminated from the 2012 London Games during a 2005 vote by the International Olympic Committee in which the same number of secret ballots _ 52 _ supported keeping the sport as supported its removal. A majority was required to retain the sport, and one member abstained. A reinstatement attempt last year was defeated in a 47-43 vote.

The next chance for softball to regain its Olympic status will come in 2009, when the IOC will select the sports for the 2016 Games.

``That's pretty disappointing when you lose by one vote, but the thing is it's not that we just wanted one more vote to come back. We want more than one vote,'' Porter said. ``We want a lot more to show that the IOC members are supportive of our sport.''

The ISF formed a task force featuring former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch as the honorary chairperson and has put together a plan to seek reinstatement. Officials plan to lobby for support next week at an IOC gathering in Guatemala.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Michele Smith visited President Bush on Wednesday as an honorary commissioner for a T-ball game on the White House South Lawn, and she said the president told her he's ``100 percent'' behind the effort to reinstate softball.

``Today was a huge day for us in a lot of ways and in a lot of different countries,'' Smith said by phone.

``For us, our Olympics is everything,'' Smith said.

Porter said there are currently 128 countries with national softball federations, and the ISF is in the process of confirming two more.

``That's not enough really,'' Porter said. ``We want to expand, and that's one of the goals is to expand the number of national federations so that we've got them out there playing softball, developing the sport in these countries and having competitions.''

Porter's goal is to have softball federations in 150 countries in time for the Olympics in Beijing next August _ where softball is on the program. About 70 federations existed when softball made its Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The ISF is targeting countries in the Middle East and Africa as potential locations to grow the sport. Just last week, Porter got a commitment from Jordan to establish a national softball federation.

To help spread the sport, the ISF sends softball equipment to areas that can't afford it and also provides coaches and umpires to help with development. According to Porter, the federation spent $2.5 million over the past three years to send softball equipment to 70 countries.

In some countries, economics aren't the only issue. For instance, Porter noted that women in some Muslim countries are not allowed to compete publicly in the sport.

And just establishing the national federations isn't enough.

``We want to make sure we have more countries that are competitive. We don't want to just see two, three or four countries that are the only competitive side in our sport,'' Porter said.

The United States has won all three Olympic gold medals in softball. In 2004, the U.S. outscored opponents 51-1 in a run of nine straight wins in Athens.

``A lot of our national federations just haven't developed well. They're not well-organized, they don't have strong competition, and we have to work to help them,'' Porter said. ``It's a lot like having children _ educating your children and directing them. We have to do that with national federations.

``We have to help them along so that they can get established and hopefully sometime be on their own.''

After working about 30 years to get the sport included in the Olympics for the first time, Porter is not about to give up on getting softball _ and its players _ a second chance.

``The biggest disappointment that we had is hearing back from especially our young athletes about their disappointment that their Olympic dreams had been shattered when they learned about the vote,'' he said. ``That was totally devastating to everyone, including myself.

``We want to make sure that we can give opportunities to all these young athletes all over the world that they're going to have that Olympic dream brought back.''