Seven Sports Seek Spot in 2016 Olympic Games

It’s a big week for seven sports. Both baseball and softball, golf, karate, roller sports, rugby and squash are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2016 Olympic Games (site TBD).

On November 14, each sport’s federation leaders will be in Lausanne, Switzerland, to make a case to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for entry into the 2016 Games. The hour where they have the IOC’s full attention will be crucial to their chances at the final vote in October 2009. The seven sports are split between those already featured at the Olympic Games and those trying to gain their first Olympic legs.

Looking to Return

Both men’s baseball and women’s softball are modern Olympic sports. Both are not on the slate for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Both have significant movements behind them to be reinstated for 2016.

Baseball had an Olympic run of 16 years, from 1992 to 2008. Despite being a competitive squad in the two Games it has participated, Canada has never won a baseball medal. Cuba is Olympic champion three times, the United States once and – in a surprise twist in Beijing – South Korea struck gold.

In 2005, the IOC decided to cut baseball following Beijing. It has been suggested that doping in professional baseball, Major League star players not participating and the view that it is a western sport contributed to the decision. If Chicago turns into a frontrunner for the 2016 Games, it would give this sport a major boost.

Alex Baumann, executive director of the Road to Excellence summer sports program and Olympic gold medallist, said releasing professional players is baseball’s main obstacle. “If the pro leagues in baseball showed a specific interest in the Olympics, then it would probably be a lot easier, but that will be a challenge,” said Baumann.

Olympic softball was played from 1996 to 2008. This all-women sport lost its place by a single vote. Its campaign to return in 2016 has gained much steam. Canada has not won a softball medal, but the team is continually competitive at the Olympic level. Softball is a sport dominated by the U.S., which had never finished lower than gold – until this year, when underdog Japan won the final 3-1. The absence of any doping problems and women’s softball developing around the world helps its cause.

“Certainly softball is best from our point of view,” Baumann said. “It was one of our medal chances heading into Beijing. Now they didn’t get the medal, but they still had a fairly strong program.”

Opening the history books shows two other 2016 candidates are also previous Olympic sports. Rugby was contested in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 (not by Canada). It is a popular sport in Europe, and more so in the UK and former British colonies. New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are currently tops in the world with Britain,

Wales, Ireland and Scotland not far behind. Rugby is an exciting game to watch, which may factor into the IOC’s decisions. Specifically, it is Rugby “Sevens” (seven players against seven on the field) trying to get a nod for 2016. This style is more manageable to organize, with each game lasting 20 minutes rather than the 80 minutes of full-strength rugby.

Golfers have also competed on Olympic fairways, in both 1900 and 1904. While Americans dominated these two Games, one Canadian shines in the record books. George Seymour Lyon won the 1904 gold medal in St. Louis. Golf enjoys a long history and worldwide appeal, and the IOC will debate if it can fit in the Olympic Games.

Looking for a Chance

Three sports, karate, roller sports and squash, are looking for their first opportunity to join the Olympic Movement – though they have been contested at Pan American Games.

For karate, precedence in Olympic combat sports is already set with judo, wrestling and taekwondo. Karate enjoys a following around the globe and it opens up opportunities for many smaller countries to increase their medal totals. That it needs no significant venue bodes well for the sport’s chances. And in the same way that Chicago boosts baseball and softball, Tokyo’s run at the 2016 Olympic Games may benefit this martial art.

For 22 years, the World Squash Federation has lobbied the IOC in an effort to make squash an Olympic sport. Along with karate, squash reached the vote for the London 2012 Olympic Games, but both fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. Squash is an action-packed positive spectator sport with its walls of glass.

The last possibility is roller sports, a.k.a. roller speed skating. The Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports will attempt to use the youthful nature of the sport as a leverage point into the Olympic Games.

The Olympic program has a limit of 28 sports. In 2016, there are currently 26, leaving room for two more. That said, the IOC will also vote on the 26 before next October, so the number of open slots could widen.