Olympics to Cut Baseball, Softball from Roster

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The International Olympic Committee has bounced two sports that are especially popular in the United States: Softball and baseball will be dropped from the games, as of 2012. Baseball was doomed, in part, because few of the game's stars play in the Olympics. Softball fell victim to the fact that it's not widely played around the world.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There are disappointed, angry baseball and softball players around the world today. Those two sports have been kicked out of the 2012 Summer Olympics. The decision was made Friday in Singapore at an International Olympic Committee meeting. It is the first time that sports have been removed from the Olympics since polo was cut in 1936. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Since women's softball became a medal sport in 1996, the United States team has won each Olympic competition, and pitcher Lisa Fernandez has been a key part of that success. With her 70-mile-per-hour windmill fastball, her enthusiasm and leadership, Fernandez won three gold medals and inspired young girls to embrace softball. For all that, she was practically in tears Friday after hearing the IOC had made like a baseball umpire and tossed her sport from the 2012 Olympic Games.

Ms. LISA FERNANDEZ: You know, you almost feel like a failure because you dedicated your life and you trained the way you trained, it's heartbreaking, you know, especially for those athletes that, you know, have dedicated since 1996 when they were 12 years old to knowing that, you know, their shot's going to be in 2012.

GOLDMAN: The Olympics, says Fernandez, are the most important event for women's softball players all over the world. And being out of the Games, she says, will have a major impact on the sport.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: That makes it very difficult to get funding and to get that kind of monetary means for those athletes to continue to sacrifice to represent their country and to live that dream.

GOLDMAN: Baseball is also dealing with rejection today. In Cuba, a country that's won three Olympic baseball gold medals since 1992, one prominent player was quoted as saying the decision was "hard and unjust." He added, `The greatest pride in Cuba is to be an Olympic champion.' But in this country, Donald Fehr said baseball will go on just fine. Fehr, head of the major-league players union, said baseball has never depended in any way, shape or form even slightly on the Olympics. Indeed, the major leagues have never been willing to interrupt a season to allow players to go to the Olympics. Many IOC members cited this fact, not having the best players at the Olympics, as the main reason why baseball got cut. Softball has tried to adapt, changing the dimensions of the field to allow for more offense and aggressively trying to generate worldwide interest in the game over the last few years. But, according to Ed Hula, editor of the Olympic newsletter AroundtheRings.com, the Olympic softball competitions convinced the IOC the game's popularity wasn't spreading fast enough.

Mr. ED HULA (Editor, AroundtheRings.com): It was pretty much a two- or three-team tournament from year to year--no African participation at any kind of significant level, not really any powerful European presence in the tournament as well. So that makes it tough for a sport to win the support of IOC members all over the world.

GOLDMAN: IOC President Jacques Rogge acknowledged baseball and softball's disappointment, but he stressed the two sports will be on the program for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and that they can try to get back on the program for the Olympics after 2012. In the meantime, an IOC vote Friday failed to replace baseball and softball with sports from a list that includes golf, rugby, karate, roller sports and squash. There are reports the committee may vote again on the new sports before the meeting ends Saturday. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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