Home International baseball IBAF make their pitch to the Olympic Committee

IBAF make their pitch to the Olympic Committee

by Matt Smith

As noted on Thursday, a six-man panel from the International Baseball Federation met with the International Olympic Committee yesterday to put forward the sport’s case for re-election to the Olympic programme.  As expected, the IOC’s main line of questioning concerned the participation of MLB players.  The IBAF’s response was promising even though they did not commit themselves to any specific plans in this regard. 

If baseball is re-elected at the end of next year, the sport will return to the Olympic fold for the 2016 Games.  That’s the best part of eight years down the line, so neither the IBAF nor MLB could make any grand assurances about the number or calibre of players that would be involved at this stage.

The line the IBAF have taken is to assure the IOC that more players will be available to participate than ever before.  Dr Harvey Schiller, President of the IBAF, stated that “We’re committed to bringing the best players ever to the Olympic baseball tournament”, while a written statement from Bud Selig was read to the committee basically saying the same thing (“The 2016 Olympics will have the best representation of professional players in Olympic history”).

In both cases, they are being quite careful in not promising that the best players will be there, just that the pool of talent will be the best that has ever been sent to an Olympics. Current MLB players have never represented their countries outside of the World Baseball Classic, so this could simply involve each MLB team releasing a couple of their fringe players. 

However, it is likely that MLB would make a greater commitment than this. 

The Olympics is a difficult issue for baseball to come to an agreement on.  Those focused exclusively on MLB are reluctant for there to be any change which could affect it any way.  Those who have a wider view on baseball as a global sport know just how important Olympic status is in terms of gaining credibility and funding.  The IOC are in a very strong position when it comes to gaining a commitment from MLB to release some of its players if the sport has any chance of making it back into the Olympics.  Without a certain amount of compromise on behalf of MLB, it’s not going to happen.

The importance of upholding the quality and traditions of MLB should not be casually disregarded.  One of the key features of the MLB season is the fact that games are played virtually every day, so bringing the competition to a halt for any length of time would be very unwelcome (particularly as concerns have already been raised about the length of the season). The IOC itself confirmed that they do not expect the MLB season to be brought to a halt to accommodate the Olympics, which means that MLB would have to agree to release some players while their competition is ongoing.

The very thought of this may fill MLB fans with anger, but if a reasonable agreement could be reached (e.g. every team having to give up two players of similar value for no more than ten days once every four years) then would it really be too much to ask? 

The baseball Olympic tournament is not seen as being important in America, hence the reluctance to accommodate it, but if more MLB players were involved then perhaps the country would embrace it more?  Schiller did state that if baseball was part of the 2016 Olympics, no MLB games would be played at the same time as the final. 

I’m sure a lot of people who watched this year’s final between Korea and Cuba would tell you that it was one of the most enthralling games of baseball played in 2008.  It would be interesting to know how many Americans saw it?  Again, maybe if doubts were put to one side and there was more commitment to the event, traditional MLB fans in America would see that there is a place for the Olympics in the sport and that it has a lot to offer?

It seems as though there is a general reluctance within North American sports to get involved in international competition (although basketball and ice hockey have made some strides in this respect).  This has always struck me as odd considering America is one of the proudest and most patriotic of nations.  The World Baseball Classic was reportedly seen by many Americans as, at best, an inconvenience when first held in 2006, but as the tournament progressed you could tell that the unique nature of international competition was beginning to change more than a few minds.  Hopefully the 2009 Classic can build on this and the opposition to international tournaments involving MLB players will soften.

That provides some hope for a compromise that will boost baseball’s chances of getting back into the Olympics, as does the fact that the four cities bidding for the 2016 Olympics are well set to accommodate baseball.  Chicago and Tokyo obviously would be ideal, but Madrid and Rio de Janeiro also have “strong baseball programs” according to Schiller.

All in all, it appears as though the IBAF panel was able to put forward a strong and positive case.  If MLB can offer some support, the IOC will have to work hard to ignore the sport’s claims that they deserve to be reinstated (and frankly shouldn’t have been demoted in the first place).

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Chico November 15, 2008 - 5:02 pm

Matt: Outstanding article!! I can only speak from the prospective of one baseball lifer (player and coach) in the U.S. I think however, I might represent the thinking of a lot of people here. Most fans of MLB teams probably would not necessarily mind MLB players in the Olympics if it were fair all the way around (losing equally talented players). There is a lot of talk going around about the WS being played too late in the year as it is. Knowing the history of MLB, it is my opinion that the season would not be stopped to accomodate the Olympics as of today. I believe that most MLB players would personally love to represent their respective countries in the Olympics. Personally, I would love to see the best play against each other. MLB probably would argue that the World Baseball Classic does just that. That still is not the Olympics and the true world stage. Being a Chicagoan and a White Sox fan I can’t imagine how great it would be to have the best in the world playing at U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field in the Olympics (assuming Chicago gets it)! President Elect Obama certainly doesn’t hurt Chicago’s chances. My choice would be for MLB to take a break for the Olympics and let the best compete. It would be interssting to let the fans vote as to whether that should happen or not. I get the feeling the fans would go for it and not MLB itself.

Matt Smith November 16, 2008 - 12:10 pm

Hi Chico. I’m very glad to read such positive comments. Certainly it would really help baseball’s cause if Chicago or Tokyo were awarded the 2016 games. If more of the top players were allowed to compete in an Olympic tournament in Chicago for example, I’m confident that it would really capture the imagination.

The World Baseball Classic is definitely a great addition to the international baseball scene, but it doesn’t generate any funding for developing baseball nations such as the Olympics does. My hope is that the 2009 WBC is another great tournament (reps from the IOC will be there apparently) and helps to increase interest in international competition among MLB players and fans. If it can be followed up by an exciting World Cup in September then that would be brilliant.

My main fear is that the IOC doesn’t appreciate the game and simply doesn’t want it to be a part of the Olympics, despite the fact that it more than deserves a place when you measure it up against many of the sports that are part of the program currently. If that’s true then whatever baseball does, it might not be enough. All we can do is put the best possible case forward.

Joe Cooter November 17, 2008 - 12:48 am

I too am concerned about how the IOC views Baseball. However, the argument that the IOC used about not having the best players at the games just doesn’t wash when you consider that soccer (football in britian) doesn’t send it’s best players either. Currently the Olympic Soccer tournament is an under 23 tournament with only three overage players allowed per team.

Matt Smith November 17, 2008 - 7:47 am

That’s very true Joe. The argument would be that soccer already has a very strong established international scene (through the World Cup and such tournaments). Soccer needs the Olympics less than baseball does. If the IOC turned around and wanted more top players to compete, I don’t think soccer would be overly fussed at pulling out completely. Baseball’s in a different position and therefore the IOC has a lot more leverage.

Joe Cooter November 17, 2008 - 11:24 am

I never really like the entire Idea of Professionals in the Olympics. I still remember the days when you had College Basketball players representing the United States. The problem was, teams like the Soviet Union were actually fielding professional teams when it was not LEGAL to field professionals. It was all part of their effort to prove that the Soviet Union’s “communist” system was superior to Western Capitalism.

Things came to a head in 1988 when the US finished third in the Basketball tournament. There were people saying that if we sent over our “professionals” it would be no contest. That was the moment when the Olympics sold their soul when they allowed the dream team to play in the 1992 games.


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