Softball Belongs In the Field Of Play

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By Thomas Boswell
Monday, August 18, 2008

BEIJING

Softball, which has been booted out of the Olympics for 2012, should be reinstated for the 2016 Games. The sport is completely clean of drug problems, fast paced, growing around the world -- it is played in more than 100 countries -- and deserving of a spot.

International Olympic Committee decision makers, especially in Europe, need to rethink their decision in '05 to apparently punish America for its unpopular foreign policies by kicking Jennie Finch and friends out of the spotlight. If the United States' pursuit of a fourth straight softball gold medal bugs them, just get over it. Don't punish excellence. Besides, plenty of countries rule a specific sport, at least until other nations get a taste for the game's flavor and improve.

As for baseball, which also has been dropped, the story is completely different. The sport doesn't need to be in the Olympics, or shouldn't care very much if it's included, now that the World Baseball Classic -- which includes the best pros from all over the world -- was a success after Japan's victory in '06. The U.S. Olympic baseball team, comprising college and minor league players, is 2-2 here, including an upset loss to South Korea in its opener.

Besides, baseball's steroid history (not only in the United States) is just what the Olympics need to avoid. Many believe baseball's drug problems were part of the reason softball was included in the get-lost-U.S. decision that swung on one vote when both American sports were ejected from the Games three years ago. Guilt by association, though no softball player has ever tested positive. In baseball's latest embarrassment, a Taiwan player tested positive last week, one of only a handful of positive drug tests thus far.

Probably it's no accident that, after the Opening Ceremonies, President Bush's first visit here was to the U.S. softball team. The president was even the willing butt of a practical joke when a player put chalk on her hand and, pretending to pat him on the back, created an image of a flying bird on the back of his jacket.

Old ballpark gag. But the president also knows that he may have inadvertently pulled the rug from under the softball team of which he's long been a fan. European votes swung against the U.S. softball and baseball players at a time when his policies were drawing ire on the continent.

"We're a pet project of the president, I think," said one U.S. player who was among 10 invited to the White House for an Olympic sendoff.

"Developing softball in Europe wouldn't hurt our cause. It might not take much to get us back in. The last time, it was just a one-vote swing," U.S. Coach Mike Candrea said. So, the problem is Europe? "That's it, I'd think," he said.

As world problems go, getting softball back in the Games doesn't rank with developing alternative energy resources. But since the correct decision is obvious, and reversing vote may be manageable by '09, it's worth making the case.

"We'll never really know why we were taken out. It's frustrating. But in America, softball is going to keep on going. We have Title IX and college softball. We have the pro league," said the 6-foot-1 Finch, 27, whose stellar pitching and glamour have made her the face of the sport for years. "But it's not just us that feel crushed. What about the game around the rest of the world? It's been growing so fast because of the Olympics.

"Countries like Japan, Australia and China where the game is getting stronger -- if their [state] funding disappears where are they? By 2016, I'm afraid the governments will back away from the funding."


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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