Golf and rugby move closer to Olympic status

Two sports that were part of the Summer Games in the first part of the 20th century now are part of an effort to keep the Olympics relevant in the 21st.

Golf has been gone from the Olympics since 1904, rugby since 1924. But both of these sports took a huge step Thursday toward being part of the 2016 Summer Games when the International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted in their favor. The sports still must win a majority vote when the full IOC membership meets Oct. 9.

The IOC board also voted to add women’s boxing to the 2012 Olympics, which needs no further approval since boxing is already an Olympic sport. There will be 36 female boxers in three weight classes. One men’s weight class will be eliminated. Of the 26 sports at the 2008 Beijing Games, boxing was the only one that did not include women.

The bad news perhaps for the U.S. is that baseball and softball were eliminated -- and could be gone forever.


“There is life outside the Olympic Games; many sports have proven that,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said.

Rogge added that golf would “absolutely” bring a new level of excellence to the Olympics.

“Who is one of the major icons of the world?” Rogge asked. “Tiger Woods.”

Woods, whose success helped lift golf to unprecedented heights around the world, has said his sport and the Summer Games are a good match.

“Golf is a truly global sport,” Woods said Wednesday from Chaska, Minn., where he is playing in the PGA Championship. “And I think it should have been in the Olympics awhile ago. If it does get in, I think it would be great for golf and especially some of the other smaller countries that are now emerging in golf.”

Olympic golf would be a 72-hole, stroke-play tournament. Rugby would include 12 teams for both men and women.

Rogge was not worried about whether top golf pros would want to play in the Olympics.

“We will find they are all excited about it, and they will be present,” Rogge said. “We have seen that in tennis, in ice hockey and basketball.”

Peter Dawson, co-secretary of the International Golf Federation and chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland, said, “The major championships are the pinnacle of golf, but the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of all sport.”

In Thursday’s multiphase IOC vote that chose golf and rugby, softball wound up fourth and baseball fifth of the seven sports under consideration. Karate was third, and squash and roller sports sixth and seventh, respectively.

If golf or rugby fails to win approval of the full IOC membership, there will be no second chance at the 2016 Olympics for any of the sports rejected Thursday.

Baseball was an Olympic medal sport from 1992 to 2008, softball from 1996 to 2008. Both were dropped for 2012 in an IOC vote when none of the same seven sports in Thursday’s election gained enough votes to be added.

“I would like not to believe this was anti-American,” said Harvey Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation. “It doesn’t just hurt young people in America. It hurts them in Cuba, in Japan, in Korea, Chinese Taipei and dozens of other countries.”

Schiller, a former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive, said he would be “very surprised” if baseball tried again for 2020, when there would be at least one opening on a program capped at 28 sports.

The loss of women’s softball raises issues about gender equity, which the IOC has declared one of its goals. But Rogge noted that the addition of 60 female golfers and 144 female rugby players means there will be more women participating in the Summer Games, since softball included 120 players.

International Softball Federation President Don Porter intends, however, to take another shot at getting the sport back into the Summer Games.

“We are not going to give up,” he said. “Hopefully, we are going to come to bat in the bottom of the seventh.”


Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein contributed to this report from Chaska, Minn.