Monday, August 17, 2009

Olympic Baseball All But Dead

I received this disheartening press release from Dr. Harvey Schiller, President of the International Baseball Federation. While I have never been a fan of exhibitions such as the All-Star Game or the WBC (and root for my team's players to stay home and rest rather than participate) I have always enjoyed Olympic baseball, which used college and recently drafted players instead of professionals. Oh well, it appears the days of Olympic dreams for young baseball players is over.
August 17, 2009

Dear Colleague,

As you know, last Thursday we received the disappointing news that the IOC Executive Committee had chosen not to put forward baseball as one of the two sports for a general vote for the 2016 Olympics. Although the announcement was not what we had hoped for, it certainly does not detract from the great progress the sport of baseball is making globally, nor does it minimize the great collective effort by all involved to present the best possible case for baseball’s re-instatement for the Olympics. The fact remains, now more than ever, that baseball is a vibrant, growing sport played and enjoyed by millions and is reflective of all the Olympics are supposed to stand for, whether included in the programme or not.

First, we owe a word of thanks to all those who went above and beyond to assist us in the process leading into Thursday. That includes all the Federations, who not only enlisted the help of their IOC members but who also rallied so much local support for us on our Facebook and website efforts, along with the many people who wrote letters to key IOC members, ranging from college coaches and administrators to government and sport officials from around the world. The support we received was unprecedented and we are confident in the long run that it will benefit the growth of baseball, so long as we keep the momentum going. We would also be remiss in not acknowledging and thanking those at the highest level of the sport, Major League Baseball and the NPB, for all their assistance as well. The game would be nowhere without their efforts, and the support of Commissioner Selig, President Dupuy and Players Association Executive Director Fehr, as well as all the MLB owners and staff, is greatly appreciated. Lastly, there are our staff and Executive Committee, who also did everything possible until the final minutes to rally support. Thank you all for your efforts, they did not go unnoticed.

With regard to “what went wrong” in the Olympic process, it is probably not healthy or productive to spend much time looking back. We effectively addressed all the questions the IOC had with regard to reinstatement. We had unprecedented support from Major League Baseball, the Players Association and the Japanese League with regard to scheduling concessions and player availability, and even submitted a list of statements from top players to the IOC in the last week with regard to player commitment. The one thing MLB could not do was stop the season for the 2016 Olympics, especially without knowing which city was being selected as host. It is not a concession asked of soccer or tennis or other sports, and we did everything possible to provide the best alternative plan that would include using top players for the five day tournament. It is important to note that NOT ONE professional or top amateur player, when asked, said he would not participate in 2016 if his country qualified and he was selected. Not one.

We were also disappointed to see, even with all the concessions made, that a number of members of the IOC Executive Committee who said they would support baseball chose not to support the sport when the vote was taken. Of the countries where we thought we would have had 100% support…Italy, Japan, Puerto Rico, Germany and Mexico especially…we never received more than two votes per round, meaning for some reason unknown to us, even those countries where the sport is strong, officials still didn’t think that baseball should be part of the Olympic programme, despite all that we had done. It was clear from the start of the process that several senior IOC officials were in favor of rugby and golf and many comments made on and off the record supported that fact, so perhaps that is why we did not get the votes we were anticipating and had been promised last week.

Many have also asked about re-submitting a bid for 2020. At this point we do not think that would be prudent for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that baseball has now been rejected twice by the senior members of the IOC, which is a clear message that despite any changes we make, we are not part of their plan. Also contrary to what we were originally told, the two sports that made it to the vote in Copenhagen, golf and rugby, have been informed they will be part of the programme in 2020. This was yet another clear message that the IOC has no interest in baseball. It makes much more sense to spend all our time, money and effort in continued development of the game around the world, as opposed to making futile attempts to work with a group that has no interest in partnering with baseball.

That being said, baseball is a sport that is full of infinite possibilities and resilience. Therefore, it is best that we look forward to what can be a very bright future.

In just this coming month, we will continue to see championship play on many levels, from youth championships like Little League and Pony League to the much-anticipated World Cup, as well as the World Series and the Japanese Championship later in the fall. The announcement of professional baseball returning to Australia and Israel, along with the continued growth and promotion of baseball in Italy and the Netherlands at a top level will continue to give us a growing presence in Europe, and we are very encouraged by development in emerging nations like Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and China among many others. The plans to continue to expand the World Baseball Classic are also ongoing, and there remains strong interest from several sites to host the 2010 Women’s World Cup and continue to develop baseball for girls and young women. All of that is very positive and shows us that we are very much on the right track in growing the game with our partners.

Do we have challenges? Yes. We are aware that some Federations may lose some funding as a result of not being on the Olympic programme, and we remain concerned about the split that softball continues to push with federations in several countries. However we feel that by working together and using economies of scale, identifying new partners and showing what a great social unifier the sport can be, all these problems can be overcome. Baseball after all, is perhaps the sport that teaches teamwork and overcoming adversity better than any other. That is what helps make it such a great game.

In closing I want to personally thank you for your support of our efforts in my two years as President. I am very proud of not just the effort we made, but the way we made the effort. We did not waste money on high priced teams of consultants or advertising campaigns that were proved by other sports to be pointless and a distraction from the mission of growing the sport. Instead we concentrated on telling the stories, building consensus, aligning long term support and exposing the game to as wide an audience as possible, and those efforts, with or without the Olympics, have created a much more solid base for year round effective growth of baseball than ever existed before.

As always, any comments, questions or thoughts are welcomed. I hope to see you soon.

Best regards,

Dr. Harvey W. Schiller
International Baseball Federation

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