Softball officially re-introduced into Olympics

Sport will be played at 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo

Eleven years after the sport was sent to the sidelines, softball is officially back in the Olympic Games.

Softball and baseball – along with surfing, karate, skateboarding and sport-climbing – were all voted on the Olympic docket by unanimous vote today (Wednesday) in Rio de Janeiro, where the International Olympic Committee met in advance of the beginning of the 2016 Games.

Softball was voted out in 2005, and last played at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And though it’s long been assumed by those in softball circles that it would be reintroduced for Tokyo, it wasn’t until Wednesday’s vote that it became official.

“We’re not surprised because we knew about six weeks ago that the IOC had approved and recommended softball and baseball be included,” said Greg Timm, president of the local White Rock Renegades softball association as well as chair of last month’s Women’s World Softball Championships, which were held in South Surrey.

“Since 2005, softball has been turned upside-down because of what we feel was a mistake (to vote it out), and it’s taken 11 years to navigate the politics, and align it properly with baseball, but now, it’s a very exciting time for our sport.”

Having the Olympics rings associated with the sport will do wonders for those involved on a variety of levels, Timm said.

For starters, national women’s softball teams from across the globe will begin to receive more funding, which should mean tournaments such as the just-revived Canada Cup – set for Softball City in 2017 – should see an influx of talent.

As well, collegiate softball programs both in Canada and the United States will likely be better funded, which means more opportunity for young players, including those on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

“For a lot of kids around here, their worlds just changed about an hour ago,” Timm said Wednesday, shortly after the vote was announced.

The Canadian national team that recently wrapped up its 2016 season with a bronze-medal at world championships boasts a handful of Lower Mainland athletes, including South Surrey pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who, at just 21 years old, would be in the prime of her playing career when the 2020 Games approach.

And though the Olympics were not an option for a generation of players, Timm was excited for players like Groenewegen, as well as those younger than her.

“We lost a generation of Olympians before, but now for this new generation of young players, it’s a chance to compete at an Olympic level.”

Jenn Salling, a longtime member of the Canadian national team who played on the final Olympic team in 2008, told Peace Arch News last month that the Olympics would “bring life to the sport again” and was excited for the next crop of Olympians.

“For a lot of them, they probably thought this wasn’t even a possibility anymore,” she said.

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