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Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Softball still has long road to 2020

By Sarah Spain

On Monday, while you were no doubt enjoying a cold brew at a barbecue and watching fireworks, the softball world had something more than brats and dogs to cheer for. Inserted quietly into a news release revealing the events to be added to the 2014 Winter Games was a short list of sports to be considered for the 2020 Olympics -- and softball was on it.

While news of softball's inclusion is huge, the sport still is one of eight vying for a single spot. The others to be considered by the International Olympic Committee are karate, roller sports, sports climbing, squash, wakeboard, wushu and baseball. In September 2013, the IOC will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to select one sport to add to the program at the 2020 Games.

Not only does softball need to beat out seven other sports, the people in charge at the IOC also need to be convinced of its merit after dropping it from the Olympics several years ago. In 2005, the IOC elected to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic program for the 2012 Games, and in 2009, voted to keep them from the 2016 Games as well.

Those who voted to cut softball argued that the sport lacks appeal on a global stage, and the results of the first four Olympic softball competitions support their claims. The U.S. won the gold in three of those four Olympics, outscoring its opponents 51-1 en route to gold in 2004.

The same man who led the charge to eliminate softball, IOC president Jacques Rogge, will still be the head honcho when the 2013 vote takes place, and some believe the reinstatement will not happen until he's gone.

Jessica Mendoza, a 2008 Olympian, is one of them.

"Without leadership change in the IOC, softball is not going to get back in," Mendoza told espnW's Pat Borzi last month. "The IOC is not the type of an organization that will say, 'We're wrong, softball can be back in.' They have to change enough where leadership will say, 'Why did we eliminate softball in the first place?'"

If it's true that the IOC cannot be convinced it eliminated softball in error, the International Softball Federation will need to prove softball has changed on a global level. Softball needs more teams and, more importantly, better teams. With funding on the decline -- or nearly nonexistent -- since the sport was eliminated from the Olympics, improving the caliber of competition is increasingly difficult.

Monday's announcement was a big step, but just one step on the long road to getting softball back into the Games.