Nine years after having their Olympic dreams dashed, young softball players have a glimmer of hope that their sport will return to the world’s grandest stage.
Earlier this month, during meetings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it was announced that softball and baseball would be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
There are still hurdles to leap in order to get the sport back onto the Olympic docket, but “this is a very positive first step,” said Greg Timm, president of the White Rock Renegades Fastpitch Association and chairman of the Canadian Open Fastpitch Society.
In a 2005 decision, softball and baseball were voted out of future Olympic Games by the IOC; the sports were last played at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
And it was only 15 months ago that softball was, again, denied entry into the 2020 and 2024 Olympics, instead finishing second in a vote that was won by wrestling – a historic Olympic sport that was voted out briefly.
“We knew that year that wrestling was going to get back in, as it should have. It never should’ve been taken out,” Timm said.
The latest recommendation for softball and baseball’s inclusion back into the Olympics is part of a 40-point to rejuvenate interest in the Olympics, Timm said.
The plan will be presented for official recommendation in March. If the two sports – to be presented as a package deal – are given the green light through that stage, they’ll go to a vote in the summer of 2015.
Timm said the proposed changes – which also include allowing regions or entire countries to host Olympics, rather than individual cities – aim to give host sites more of a say in the sports that are played each Olympic Games.
Tokyo organizers, for example, would love to see the inclusion of softball and baseball; the two sports are among the country’s most popular. Both are also television-friendly sports – an important consideration for the IOC and its broadcast partners, Timm added.
Timm said the eventual decision – one way or another – would not affect Surrey’s hosting of the 2016 Women’s World Fastpitch Championships, plans for which are humming along nicely, he said.
In 2016, the world championships will, for one year, replace the Canadian Open, the annual event that brings together youth squads, and national teams, from all across the world.
“We proceeded with our event with the thought that there would be no Olympic involvement, and softball is a viable sport with or without them,” he said.
“But that said, when the Olympic winds are blowing, it raises the sport’s profile, and it gets more countries interested in coming to tournaments such as ours. It helps everywhere – with sponsors, with funding, with potential television exposure.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities.”
The potential re-introduction of softball into the Olympics should also help boost interest in the sport among young people, Timm said.
In 2005, the announcement that the two sports would be axed from future Olympics came in mid-July, as thousands of young softball players from around the world were playing at South Surrey’s Softball City in what was then the Canada Cup (now the Canadian Open).
At the time, Ron Gallinger, then-program director of Canada’s national teams, told PAN that the decision was “pretty heartbreaking” while a Renegades player at the time, Carly Moir, was among a handful of heartbroken Olympic hopefuls to the move “a real shame.”
Should softball get back into the Games, it will give young local ballplayers the chance to follow in the footsteps of former South Surrey Olympians like Auburn Sigurdson, Melanie Matthews and Danielle Lawrie.
“We have some real talented athletes here who remain very involved with the national team – players like Sara Groenewegen. It would be my hope that they still have that Olympic flame burning in their hearts,” Timm said.