In 2012, the eyes of the world will turn to London, England as the Games of the XXX Olympiad are conducted. Twenty-six sports and a total of 39 disciplines will be featured from mid-July to early August
Baseball and softball, however, were dropped from the Olympics in July of 2005, delivering a serous blow to the sports. It marked the first sports eliminated from the Olympics since polo in 1936.
The reason? At the time the IOC was disappointed in the lack of major leaguers participating on prior rosters.
"The lack of the MLB players -- I think people have looked and said, `Well, all right, if there's to be a change, that seems to be the logic of it,"' British IOC member Craig Reedie said at the time.
"Those who bear most of the blame are the owners of the professional leagues who refuse to free up their ballplayers to compete," Cuban Baseball Federation president Carlos Rodriguez said.
While the two sports will be absent from the 2012 Olympics, the sports are allowed to submit for reinstatement in 2016. To that end, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), along with Major League Baseball have begun taking steps to get baseball back into the Summer Games.
The man most visible in the effort has been Dr. Harvey Schiller.
Schiller is formerly the President of TBS Sports, Southeastern Conference commissioner, and CEO of YankeeNets, as well as a former director of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was elected as the president of the IBAF in 2007.
Founded in 1938, the International Baseball Federation is a non-governmental organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as administering men’s and women’s baseball at the world level. Located in Lausanne , Switzerland – the Olympic Capital – and counting 125 National Member Federations, the IBAF organizes the IBAF Men’s and Women’s Baseball World Cup, the AAA (18U) and AA (16U) World Championships, the Olympic Games Baseball Tournament, and it sanctions the World Baseball Classic, among other international baseball tournaments. The IBAF works to develop and grow the game of baseball around the world.
We were able to catch up with Dr. Schiller over the last weekend in June to get the latest on where the IBAF and MLB are at in their efforts to reinstate baseball for the 2016 Olympics; whether American MLB players will be on any Team USA that would compete for the Olympics, if it is reinstated; whether the drug suspensions of high-profile players such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez shine an unfavorable light on MLB’s drug testing policy when compared to the policy of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA); the growth of baseball in Asia, specifically, China; what the Netherlands deep run in the most recent World Baseball Classic (WBC) is doing for the growth of baseball in Europe, and; what other efforts that the IBAF are conducting that fans of international baseball should look to in the future.
Select Read More to see the interview with Dr. Harvey Schiller
Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: You, as well as Bob DuPuy, Donald Fehr, John Ostermeyer and others made your case for the reinstatement of baseball into the 2016 Olympics. How would you describe presentation to the IOC?
Dr. Harvey Schiller: It went very well and was very well received. The sport has addressed every issue as to why the game was removed from the program, and also presented a very extensive plan where for the next seven years we will work on marketing partnerships with the IOC to grow, both baseball and the Olympic programme.
If baseball is not included it will be the world's largest sport not in the Olympics.
Bizball: As part of the presentation, the group has said it will offer a five-day, eight team tournament which will allow maximum participation of the top players from the countries that qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. The qualifier for 2016 would be held during the 2015 off-season. The reference was “top players” but not “MLB players”. With the Olympics occurring in the middle of the major league season, how difficult will it be to get premiere players from the league to participate in the Olympics?
Schiller: I think that's semantics. Don Fehr and Bob DuPuy both addressed the issue; top players include MLB players, of course. The real issue is the interest in American players. Remember, in Beijing, Team Japan was also professional players; Korea was all professional players; Team Cuba was all professional players, and Team USA had players off the 40 man roster. Japan could have asked for players playing in MLB and chose not to for nationalistic reasons, and may do so again. The five day plan allows for maximum flexibility for a sampling of top players, depending on who qualifies, and I think the way the world is now it is very difficult to predict who those eight teams will be. Many forget that the US, with an All-Star pitcher at the time in Roger Clemens, lost to Mexico and did not qualify for the Athens games.
We also know baseball is a game of team chemistry, and it will be up to the federation and the manger to decide who best makes up that team. Will it be All-Stars or the right mix? Too hard to say. However, we do know this: there is more interest in players playing international games for their countries now than ever before, and a five day tournament – where MLB has already said they will not play on Gold Medal day and many teams could have another off day – gives players the best chance to play if they so desire.
Bizball: While you can’t speak for the IOC, if MLB players are not part of any USA Baseball team set for Olympic play, do you see the Olympic committee continuing to keep baseball out due to the lack of premiere talent from the US missing?
Schiller: MLB players will be part of the 2016 mix. We had a commitment from young, elite players who could play in 2016 as part of our presentation. I don't believe any other sport can have that commitment seven years in advance.
Bizball: Recently, Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the DL due to shoulder strain, placing his participation in the WBC under scrutiny. How difficult is it to approach MLB about having star players in international play when clubs are looking to protect their investments in star players?
Schiller: In a five day tournament the chances are that pitchers will pitch once and the pitchers will also be in mid-season shape, so it really is the best scenario in terms of conditioning. MLB is a partner in this, the owners are supportive, the players want to play and represent their country; there is no difficulty. This is in the best interests of growing the game. Injuries are a part of the game regardless of international competition.
Bizball: While MLB has addressed the PED issue by implementing a stringent drug policy, it is not nearly as tough as WADA’s. With the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez being recently tied to PEDs, does the IOC have concerns about performance-enhancing drugs at baseball’s highest levels?
Schiller: The concern with drugs is an international issue for all sports and society, not just for baseball. Baseball is now among the leaders in anti-doping practices, and the fact that players are getting caught sends a message that this is serious and that the system works. WADA compliance was a necessity, and it is one of the biggest positives the sport has put forward.
Bizball: Shifting gears, how do you view the growth of baseball in Asia, and in particular China, impacting Major League Baseball in the future, both from a player development perspective and a business perspective?
Schiller: The growth, not just in China and Asia but around the world, especially at the grassroots level, is very, very exciting. The natural competitiveness among nations to be successful in sport is a big part of baseball, and many nations have seen the success of China, Italy, the Netherlands, and Australia in the WBC and the Olympics and are working hard to emulate it.
Another interesting development is in cricket-playing countries like India and Pakistan where more young people already familiar with bat and ball sports are now starting to play baseball. Pakistan had a great showing in the recent Asian Cup qualifier and is looking to host an international event now as well. It shows how far baseball has come in emerging nations.
Bizball: How big was the Netherlands deep run into the WBC for the growth of baseball in Europe and beyond?
Schiller: It was very important, as was the play of Italy, China, and Australia in their geographic regions. The improved play, combined with the marketing and media dollars MLB and others are establishing and the inroads Little League and groups for the young are making, gives the global nature of the sport a very bright future.
Bizball: Finally, what are some efforts that the IBAF are conducting that fans of international baseball should look to in the future?
Schiller: We are excited about the World Cup in the fall, as well as the Asian Championships at the end of July. There are clinics for kids going on this summer in no less than 17 countries on five continents, the implementation of programs in schools in Cameroon and Nigeria, Phenom Pen and American Samoa and Fiji, plus the establishment of a more uniform women's program will all be on the agenda.
We are also working with MLB to expose more fans to top-quality games in Europe, as well as working with Federations where the game is successful...Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany...how to market the game as best possible.
We also shouldn't forget Latin America, where new programs and academies are being formed in Brazil and Argentina to improve the quality of play there.
Baseball is both a global game and a game for all, and its brightest future is still very much ahead.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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