by Charlie O. Mallonee
The International Olympic Committee announced yesterday in Rio de Janeiro that five sports would be added to the 2020 games in Tokyo including baseball and softball. Both sports made their exit from Olympic competition following the Beijing games in 2008.
Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said, “The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games – the world’s greatest sporting stage – and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life.”
Softball teams will have 15 player rosters while baseball teams will allowed to carry 24 players.The plan is to use existing and temporary venues for the competitions.
“We are excited about the IOC’s announcement restoring baseball and softball to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release. “Baseball and Softball are global sports that belong in the Olympics. We are grateful to the IOC executive board, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the World Baseball Softball Confederation for their collective efforts, which will allow fans throughout the world to again enjoy Baseball and Softball on the Olympic stage.”
The planned dates for the 2020 games are July 24 to August 9 which put them in the heart of baseball’s regular season. Unlike hockey which has shutdown its schedule to allow its top players to participate in the Olympics, baseball has sent its top minor league players to represent the country in the games. Major League Baseball is very resistant to change and not very creative when it comes to finding solutions to problems.
MLB has been exploring a shortened season. The 2020 season would be the ideal time to cut back to 154 or 144 games and then take a two-week break to allow “big leaguers” to play in the Olympics. Teams could bring in their farm teams to play in the big stadiums, let fans attend for free and make money on parking and concessions.
The major league clubs could rotate players in and out of Tokyo. Send a player in for a one to two games and then bring then bring them home allowing another MLB player to take their place.
If the owners just cannot get on board with allowing their players to be gone that long, then they could take a five-day break and play the 2020 All-Star Game in Tokyo as part of Games.The Home Run Derby and the game would be a true international event. How about a MLB versus the World All-Star Game? The possibilities are limitless. Baseball just needs to quit thinking like its 1929 and jump into the 21st century.
The return of softball to the Olympics will have a very positive effective on women’s softball in the USA. There is a considerable following for softball at the college level but there is a tremendous drop off of interest and coverage of the sport at the professional level. The National Pro Fastpitch League has six teams located in South, Midwest and Eastern states and does not receive much attention from the mass media.
The reestablishment of an Olympic program should generate renewed interest in the sport beyond the college level and give players the opportunities to grow their sport before a larger audience. The Olympic involvement should also bring more sponsorships and money to the sport which will be good for the coaches and players.
“Today’s decision is an important milestone in the sport’s history and a momentous day for baseball/softball’s estimated 65 million athletes in over 140 countries, as well as millions more fans around the world,” said WBSC president Riccardo Fraccari. “On behalf of the WBSC and all the athletes, I would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Tokyo 2020 leadership for putting their faith in our sport to begin with; to IOC president Thomas Bach, whose Olympic Agenda 2020 vision has made this opportunity a reality; and to all IOC members for recognizing the valuable contribution the sport can make to the Olympic Movement.A key part of baseball/softball’s popularity is the universality of the sport. It offers an accessible route for young people all over the world to play and stay in sport.”
In 2020, we know it will be the “women’s softball dream team” playing for Team USA in Tokyo. Will it be the “men’s baseball dream team” or the “who is that team” for Team USA baseball? Only time and money will tell.