July 9, 2005

Doping, lack of top players hurt baseball – Rogge

By Ossian Shine

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Concerns over doping and the lack of
top players at past Olympics were the main reasons for
baseball's ejection from the London 2012 Games program, IOC
President Jacques Rogge said on Saturday.

Baseball and softball failed to win a majority of votes in
a ballot of members at an IOC (International Olympic Committee)
meeting in Singapore on Friday, becoming the first sports to be
cut from the Games since polo in 1936.

"The message ... was that the IOC wanted the best athletes,
universality and clean sport," said Rogge.

Baseball's image in the United States has been tarnished in
the past year after a number of leading players were linked to
steroid use.

President Bush, a former part owner of the Texas Rangers
baseball team, has urged professional sport to rid itself of
drugs and Congress has moved to crack down on the use of
performance-enhancing substances.

The IOC decision provoked outrage in the United States
where baseball is a national pastime.

"It was a bad call. Very disturbing," said Tommy Lasorda,
the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager who led the U.S.
baseball squad to the gold medal in the 2000 Games in Sydney.

"I can't believe they would drop baseball and softball, two
very, very big sports that are played throughout the world,"
Lasorda told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Rogge's comment that the IOC members wanted the best
athletes reflected their disappointment that many of baseball's
star players had stayed away from past Games. The United States
did not play at last year's Athens Olympics after falling in an
Olympic qualifying tournament.


Many IOC members reacted with disappointment after the
sports were axed.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates was
critical of the process. "It should not have started in the
first place," he said.

"All they have done is severely disrupt the development of
baseball and softball. George Bush was getting U.S. baseball
into line over doping, and softball has gone ahead in leaps and
bounds since it became an Olympic sport.

"I'm shocked and disappointed. It is very sad to lose two
of our member sports."

U.S. reaction ranged from disappointment to outrage.

Lisa Fernandez, a three-times gold medal-winning softball
pitcher for the United States, said the decision "took her
breath away."

"We proved as a sport we belong," she told Reuters. "They
are destroying the dreams of billions of women. Not millions.

Rogge stressed that both softball and baseball were still
Olympic sports and that they would be included in a 2009 vote
to decide the sports program for the 2016 Olympics.

"Baseball and softball could return to the program if we
consider they have addressed their shortcomings," he told
assembled members.

"The IOC will do everything to make sure the baseball and
softball competitions are excellent," Rogge said, looking ahead
to the 2008 Games. "We'll make sure their participation is a
great success."

IOC members opted not to replace the two sports, rejecting
rugby sevens, golf, squash, karate and roller sports.

"We now have a program of 26 sports. The same number of
sports as we had at Atlanta in 1996," Rogge said.

Members would also be able to vote in 2009 on the five
sports rejected on Friday.