August 31, 2006

Mr Softball prepares for second chance

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING (Reuters) - It took Don Porter nearly three decades
to win Olympic status for women's softball and the
septuagenarian is in no mood to step aside before restoring his
sport to the zenith of international competition.

The 76-year-old Californian admits last year's IOC vote to
remove softball from the 2012 London Olympics was a "difficult
time" but is determined to ensure Beijing 2008 will not be the
fourth and final Games for the sport.

"I'm not giving up, that's the old adage and I haven't
given up," Porter, who has spent nearly 45 years with the
International Softball Federation (ISF), told Reuters.

"We're back at the beginning and it's going to be more
difficult this time but we're not giving up."

Porter, who was in Beijing for this week's women's world
championship, will have his next chance to convince the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reinstate softball in

"The success of Beijing in 2008 will be an important part
of the campaign to get back in," he said. "It will be tougher
this time we're going to be up against the other sports looking
for admission."

It was difficult enough the first time.

"It was a pipe dream, like climbing a mountain, but we
prevailed," he said. "It took 29 years, six months and 13 days
from the time we started to the time the IOC approved softball
for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. That's the ultimate ... to get
into the Olympics."

As ISF secretary general and then president, Porter played
a pivotal road in spreading the message about softball away
from its North American heartland.

"It was a bit of a personal crusade but there's been a lot
of other people involved too," he said. "We were dealing with
countries that had no idea what softball was and we had to find
ways to get equipment and coaches and coaches into countries."


All that effort and what he considers were three good
Olympic Games for softball made the bombshell of being excluded
at the IOC session in Singapore last year all the harder to

"You can't imagine what that was like, to see the result of
the vote," he said. "We were concerned about the situation but
we were fairly comfortable that we had a good amount of support
and then we missed it by one vote..."

"That was very disappointing for me but it was most
disappointing for our athletes," he added. "I got hundreds,
maybe thousands of e-mails from athletes all over the world,
young girls saying their Olympic dreams had been shattered.

"That was the most difficult part of it, reading those
letters. That was a difficult time for us."

The loss of Olympic status will have severe repercussions
for softball, including the loss of international media
profile, credibility as well as a huge amount of IOC and local
funding, Porter said.

The ISF has set up a strategic task force to tackle
re-admittance to the Games and Porter is aiming to involve
friendly IOC members and the corporate world in his campaign.

One of the biggest criticisms they have to counter is that
softball is not sufficiently international and is dominated by
the United States, who have won seven of the 10 women's world
championships and all three Olympic gold medals.

"It's been pointed that the U.S. dominates but that's the
same in a lot of other sports, where one country dominates, and
I don't think that's a good reason to decide if a sport stays
in the program," he said.


The architect of the contraction of the Olympic program is
IOC president Jacques Rogge, who Porter met last month to
discuss problem issues.

"I don't want to blame Jacques," said Porter. "I think he
has a view on what the Olympic program should be and there
should be ways of changing the program to adjust to the times
and I respect that point of view.

"He thinks changes needed to be made and if somebody comes
in, then somebody's got to go out."

If they are to succeed in their bid for restoration, Porter
thinks the ISF needs to create a clear distinction between
softball and baseball as well as target IOC members from

"I think a lot of IOC members did not understand our sport,
I think a lot of them saw it as women's baseball," he said.

"Baseball has its own problems and we want to stay separate
from baseball, I'm not trying to be critical of baseball ...
but although the similarities are there, we're a separate

"I think Europe is probably less supportive because it's
less in tune to our sport. We know what sports are popular in
Europe and we're not one of them, but then neither are some
other Olympic sports."

Surviving the minus 30 degrees Celsius temperatures and
North Korean bullets during the Korean War in the 1950s
prepared Porter for the less dangerous battles in his life and
has given him an insight into how sport can work to bring
people together.

"I'd visit Pyongyang and they'd ask me if I'd visited their
country before. I didn't want to tell them that I'd been there
in with the U.S. services," he said.

"So that was something, they'd been the enemy and there we
were talking about sport. That was something that I took very
seriously, that was a good part of it."