Olympic Softball Finds Hope in a Narrow Defeat

Times Staff Writer

Softball's ouster from the Olympics last month came by one vote, according to totals made public Friday, and U.S. sports officials and softball leaders expressed hope that it could be restored for the 2012 London Games.

With 105 ballots distributed for the July 8 vote in Singapore, softball needed a simple majority of 53 to stay on the Olympic program. With an unidentified delegate abstaining, the 104 votes were evenly split, 52-52, ousting the sport.

The International Olympic Committee released the vote count to International Softball Federation officials, who had made a special plea to obtain it. No names were included.

"It's very disappointing to lose by one vote, especially when there's an abstention," softball federation president Don Porter said in a telephone interview. At the same time, he said, "I wonder who the 52 are who voted against us. That's my concern."

Peter Ueberroth, the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman, said he has been told by at least four IOC members that they were simply confused, thinking they were voting against baseball when they were voting against softball.

At the time of the vote, IOC President Jacques Rogge said there would be no reconsideration of the 2012 program balloting. But the totals strongly suggest a push to reconsider softball's 2012 status, Ueberroth said.

"This makes it abundantly clear that the IOC, in its fairness, as it has always shown, will certainly allow for a re-vote," he said.

The next IOC general assembly will be in February, immediately before the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

When baseball and softball were ousted beginning in 2012 by IOC delegates meeting last month, they became the first sports excluded from the Olympics since polo was booted in 1936. The 2008 Games in Beijing will feature 28 sports; the number will drop to 26 in 2012. The 2016 program will be reviewed in 2009.

Baseball, softball and modern pentathlon had been targeted for elimination since 2002. All three survived a vote three years ago in Mexico City. Modern pentathlon survived the Singapore vote as well.

Before the Singapore vote, baseball was thought to be the one sport perhaps most at risk because major league players don't take part in the Games and because the sport has been awash in doping-related issues.

Softball was thought to be safe, in part because the IOC has long been dedicated to increasing the numbers of female athletes at the Games. The sport has been played at the last three Summer Olympics. The U.S. has won the gold medal each time.

Despite the acknowledged risk to baseball, U.S. officials who inquired behind the scenes were reassured that all 28 sports seemed safe, so they opted to fly home from Singapore before the July 8 vote, reasoning there was little they could add.

Immediately after the vote, Anita DeFrantz, the senior U.S. member of the IOC, called it a "horrific day" for the role of women at the Olympics.

"It is extremely important to bring back this sport for women so that it can be part of the 2012 program," she said Friday.

Jim Easton of Van Nuys, the sole U.S. member of the IOC's policy-making executive board, recused himself from the votes on baseball and softball. His company makes equipment for both sports.

Though his vote could have swung the total softball's way, Easton said Friday that he did the right thing by recusing himself, particularly since the IOC has made a priority of avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal.

"It's discouraging for softball," Easton said. "This may be painful for me and my company. But I think it would have been worse if I'd voted, to have someone with a financial interest in softball voting for it."

The way the IOC system works, the box Easton used to vote on other sports was taken away at the time of voting for softball. He is not the unidentified IOC voter who abstained.

Ueberroth suggested that the IOC could weigh whether Easton might be eligible to vote in new balloting, on the grounds that he has disclosed his potential conflicts of interest.

"We applaud his wanting to be absolutely, totally honorable in every way," Ueberroth said.

Porter and several softball players are due to meet with Rogge on Oct. 4 in Lausanne. A delegation that includes the third U.S. member of the IOC, Bob Ctvrtlik of Newport Beach, is due to lobby a number of IOC members meeting in the coming days at a 2007 Pan American Games planning meeting in Rio de Janeiro.



Short history

Softball became a medal sport in 1996. A look at the medalists and runs scored and allowed in the Olympic tournament:

*--* 2004 -- ATHENS Medal Country RS RA Gold United States 51 1 Silver Australia 26 24 Bronze Japan 18 11 2000 -- SYDNEY Medal Country RS RA Gold United States 25 7 Silver Japan 20 9 Bronze Australia 22 7 1996 -- ATLANTA Medal Country RS RA Gold United States 41 8 Silver China 32 12 Bronze Australia 26 15


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