Olympic Ouster: European Hardball

News that baseball and softball were being dropped from the Summer Olympics – as of 2012 — was not well received in this country. It may be hardball politics as usual, since half of the International Olympic Committee delegation is from Europe, a continent notably indifferent to the two indigenous American sports.

Baseball was tossed ostensibly because big leaguers don’t compete and Major League Baseball’s drug-testing program lacks international credibility. For softball, it might be guilt by association. A softball must look like a baseball on steroids to IOC president Jacques Rogge.

And that’s too bad — for softball. The U.S. is really, really good at it. And it’s the odds-on favorite to retain its (2004) gold medal in Beijing in 2008. And recall that the (’04) softball stands were packed in Athens – as opposed to, say, the venues for badminton, which remains a sport in good standing. Moreover, there are now more than 100 national softball teams throughout the world. But not enough in Europe. C’est la vie.

But sports that are given the IOC heave-ho can apply for readmission. Softball certainly should and doubtless will.

The loss of Olympic baseball, however, shouldn’t be mourned, although it’s never been more internationalized – from Latin America to the Far East. Baseball – with or without MLB players – is not unlike basketball, soccer and tennis. It doesn’t belong.

For these sports, the Olympics does not represent the ultimate. An Olympiad deserves better than inferior status to a World Series, a World Cup, Wimbledon or the NBA playoffs. All the best players will never be available, and those who do, play under a cloud questioning their motivation and conditioning. Anyone ever expect to wax nostalgic over Team Tattoo — America’s ’04 bronze-medal-winning, hip-hop hoopsters?

Sure, badminton is a goofy sport that could be played with a beer in one hand, and who cares enough about team handball to even understand it?

But these sports – more than the likes of baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis – represent the Olympic ideal of athletes competing for the love of a sport and the thrill of competition. These athletes aren’t glamorous; they have real jobs and no agents. Win or lose – in front of a packed house or mainly family and friends – they will earn no endorsements, no lasting fame, no pharmaceutical notoriety. Only memories and respect.

They will have competed fairly and done their best. And they don’t think they’re doing their country a favor by showing up.

As with softball, baseball can apply for readmission. It shouldn’t.

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