Olympics: Baseball fights to return to Games
AP Sports Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Baseball needs to shed its image as a mainly American sport in order to win back a spot at the Olympics, according the president of the sport's international federation.
Riccardo Fraccari says baseball must rebrand itself as an international game, and that he sees potential to expand in parts of Europe as well as Africa and the Middle East, where Iraq and Iran have approached him about investing in the sport.
"The message you have to give to people is that baseball is a global sport, not American," Fraccari told The Associated Press on Tuesday at the SportAccord convention. "This was the mistake made in the past."
Fraccari said he will work with softball on a joint bid in 2013 to get back into the Olympics. Baseball and softball were dropped after the 2008 Beijing Games.
An Italian who became president of the International Baseball Federation in December, Fraccari said his top priority is returning baseball to the Olympics. He acknowledged that baseball is far more developed in the United States than elsewhere, but pointed to thriving leagues in Latin America, Japan and other parts of Asia as a sign that it is "a very global sport."
"Many times when people approach me, they talk as if it's an American sport," he said. "It's not true."
In 2005, softball and baseball became the first sports in 69 years to be voted out of the Olympics. Both lost appeals for reinstatement in 2006 and then set their sights on this year's vote to get back on the program for 2016.
Instead, International Olympic leaders voted to add golf and rugby to the 2016 Games, while softball, baseball and three other sports were left out.
At the time, then International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller expressed disappointment that softball had distanced itself from baseball following the 2005 vote, rejecting an offer of a joint Olympic bid. Instead, softball mounted a campaign to expand in the Middle East and Africa, and it touted a clean doping record.
But that could be changing. With only one sport expected to be added in 2013, the International Softball Federation President Don Porter said his organization was "exploring the possibility" of a joint bid with baseball, though he said no decision has been taken.
The issue is expected to be on the agenda when officials from the two federations meet this week at the SportAccord.
After being dropped from the Olympics, baseball has focused on increasing interest in the World Baseball Classic, which is jointly owned by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the baseball World Cup. Many of the games in the 22-team World Cup were played in Europe, which Fraccari sees as the next big market for the sport.
"If you look at Europe, it is a big potential market," he said. "There is money. There are good organizations and a strong mentality of sport."
Fraccari said Iran and Iraq have approached him about starting baseball programs, and he said many other Middle Eastern countries also offer potential because they have good weather, American influence and available land.
"I think we have the opportunity to develop baseball there," he said.
Among the obstacles to returning baseball to the Olympics is the refusal of MLB and the players' association to make major leaguers available to Olympic teams. The season can't be extended because of weather issues in March and November, and management and the union haven't been willing to cut regular-season games, which would reduce revenue.