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Baseball had no chance in IOC vote with Rogge at helm

by Jack Gallagher

Mission accomplished.

Jack Gallagher

That’s what they must be saying in the hallways of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, this week following the recent vote to eliminate both baseball and softball from the Olympic program for the 2012 Summer Games in London.

IOC president Jacques Rogge is likely receiving congratulations all around from members of the heavily pro-European organization following the group’s meeting earlier this month in Singapore.

It was none other than Rogge himself who three years ago suggested the elimination of these two very sports and, surprise, now they are gone — becoming the first to be dropped from the Olympics since polo in 1936.

Not exactly a step for progress, I would say.

After he was denied by IOC members in his first attempt at dumping baseball and softball back in 2002, Rogge simply found a way to make the murders more palatable by setting up a system whereby each sport in the Summer Olympics had to receive a majority vote to retain its place following the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Once this plan was set Rogge had to know it was only a matter of time before the IOC members would give him what he wanted.

Rogge even insisted on a secret ballot for the voting so no one could be held accountable after the deed was done.

Transparency?

Not here, I’m afraid.

Being from Belgium, Rogge wouldn’t know the first thing about baseball or softball — or care. It is pretty preposterous that he even tried to maintain a straight face following the announcement that the two sports had been voted out.

Rogge, who participated in three Olympics as a yachtsman and was a member of Belgium’s national rugby squad, made some token remarks about baseball “not sending its best players” to the Games and its “laxity on doping.”

Talk about the height of hypocrisy.

One need look no further than the oft-referred to “world game” of soccer as a prime example of why Rogge’s position doesn’t pass the smell test.

In the Olympics, only players under the age of 23 are allowed to participate — with an exception made for each country to field a couple of over-age players. Soccer clearly does not send its “best players” to the Games. That point is irrefutable.

True, players from the major leagues have not participated in the Olympic Games and this has hurt the sport’s hope for international exposure, however, to use that as justification for baseball being voted out by the IOC is a joke.

As for the doping issue, it is nothing short of amazing that Rogge would bring it up with regards to the credibility of a single sport. This coming from a man who heads an organization that oversees a competition where the term “doping” was practically invented.

Track and field, the sport upon which the Olympics were built, was rife with blatant doping for decades before the IOC did anything about it.

I never heard a word about it being voted out of the Games.

Citing the lack of top players participating and weakness on doping were just diversions from the real reasons that baseball and softball were given the ax — they were sports that originated in North America and are played at a high level in only a few other countries in the world.

Rogge and his IOC colleagues denied this, of course, but there was nothing subtle about the way it all went down.

The Europeans never did like baseball and never will. They don’t understand it and don’t care for it, and that’s fine.

But to have the IOC vote on the future of the sport in the international arena would be like having an organization with a heavy North American influence vote on the future of cricket — ignorance and indifference would rule the day.

The sad thing is, that with the recent creation of the World Baseball Classic by Major League Baseball and its players’ union, the chance for baseball to return to the Olympics seems practically nonexistent.

Once something is killed off in sports, it is very hard to revive. Time goes by, people move on and priorities change.

Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine was right on target recently when asked his opinion about baseball in the Olympic Games.

“The Olympics are a forum for all sports for nationalism to be raised up once every four years. When baseball is played in the Olympics, I think people in the world think of it as an event in the Olympics.

“I think it is separate from baseball. It is a sports event within the Olympic rings.”

Now baseball has lost the grandest stage possible to try to expand future interest in the game. Maybe it never could have had a global reach like soccer, but now we may never know.

Let’s face it, the World Baseball Classic could turn out to be a big success, but the vast majority of people tuning in to watch it will already be baseball fans.

That’s not the case with the Olympics, where there is a much greater opportunity to attract crossover interest just by the sheer magnitude of the event.

The talk by Rogge and his staff of baseball and softball having the chance to return to the Olympics in the future is just lip service — and they know it.

This all reminds me of a trip I took to Vienna back in 1999 to serve on the nominating committee for the World Sports Awards of the Century (now the Laureus World Sports Awards).

It struck me as a bit strange that I was the only North American there, while folks from just about every other continent were represented.

Each time I suggested nominating a baseball player as one of the top 100 sportsmen of the 20th century, I was greeted with a quizzical look from my colleagues, almost as if I had descended into the room from another planet.

It was clear to me that my primarily European counterparts on the committee didn’t consider baseball a legitimate sport. When you are up against that kind of inherent bias, you know you are in trouble.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.