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Gimino: Softball omission by IOC dumb

Ignorance led to its ouster from Games

ABOVE: President Bush poses with the USA softball team, including ex-Arizona Wildcats Lovieanne Jung (left), Jennie Finch (top right) and Caitlin Lowe (right). BELOW: USA's Sada Jacobson, after defeating Ukraine's Olga Kharlan during her fencing match Saturday.

ABOVE: President Bush poses with the USA softball team, including ex-Arizona Wildcats Lovieanne Jung (left), Jennie Finch (top right) and Caitlin Lowe (right). BELOW: USA's Sada Jacobson, after defeating Ukraine's Olga Kharlan during her fencing match Saturday.

It’s enough to make you crazy. It could drive you as batty as a badminton shuttlecock.

Ah, badminton. Now, there’s an Olympic sport.

But not softball.

As we all know by now, softball was voted out of the 2012 Olympic Games, but what’s infuriating is how it happened.

Because it’s one thing to chalk it up to a stupid decision by the International Olympic Committee.

It’s another thing to realize it wasn’t just stupid. It was ignorant.

As a few IOC members described last month on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” they weren’t even sure what softball was when they voted by secret ballot in 2005 to oust softball and baseball from the Olympic program.

“It’s pretty unfortunate that people didn’t do their homework,” said University of Arizona and Team USA softball coach Mike Candrea.

“It’s kind of sad. It’s scary we are in that type of hands.”

The final vote was 52-52 with one abstention. Softball needed a majority to be kept in the Olympics. One vote away.

The problem is Europe. Europe doesn’t get softball. Doesn’t play it much.

The IOC didn’t take the time to know the difference between baseball (which it doesn’t like in the Olympics because of doping scandals and the lack of top players) and softball (which is free of drug scandals and does feature the top players).

Europe dominates membership in the IOC. There are currently 110 members. Three are from the United States but nearly half from Europe.

“It’s an anti-American thing in my eyes,” Candrea said. “Anytime you get on the international level, you’re going to feel some of that.”

It’s perceived as anti-American because the United States won the first three Olympic gold medals in softball, starting in 1996. Candrea’s 2004 team – later dubbed “The Real Dream Team” on a Sports Illustrated cover – outscored opponents 51-1.

That kind of superiority is rare at the top level of international softball. Didn’t matter. The IOC used that as a partial excuse, thumping back at softball by pointing to a supposed lack of competition worldwide.

Here’s an idea: Europe gets to keep team handball – described right there on the official Olympics Web site as a “European-based sport” – and we’ll keep softball. The Asian countries will be happy. Canada and Australia, too.

In the meantime, Europe can learn something about that game.

Candrea will do his part. He has been asked to do coaching clinics next month in London and Italy. He’ll do whatever he has to do to get IOC votes.

“If I’m called upon to fight the battle, I will do that,” he said.

He doesn’t have to worry about that right now. Softball competition starts Monday night Tucson time. Candrea is just focused on winning. Win big or win little. Just win.

And put on a good show.

Baseball and softball are each reapplying for entry into the 2016 Games, when two sports can be added. Five other sports also want in – karate, squash, roller derby, rugby and golf.

Good grief. Golf.

It’s bad enough that tennis is already eating up space on the Olympic program. The Olympics does nothing for tennis, and tennis does nothing for the Olympics.

Same thing would be true with golf. The sport already has four tradition-drenched major events, plus competitions like the Ryder Cup for team play. Olympic golf, like Olympic tennis, would never rise to the top of its sport.

Don’t bother. Please.

Remember, though, that big block of European voters.

“If you’re looking at Europe, they would love to see it,” Candrea said.

The IOC vote comes in October of next year, when the group also will decide the 2016 venue – Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or Madrid, Spain.

At least the IOC hasn’t completely lost its collective mind. It already rejected golf for inclusion for the 2012 Games.

As for softball, the International Softball Federation already has been making global inroads, spreading the word, holding camps and clinics and games in parts of world where softball has yet to put down strong roots.

These Olympics should be a good showcase. The softball venue is sold out. China always has been in medal contention. The eight teams are expected to have more competitive games.

It would be nice if IOC members can catch a game or two.

Do their homework this time.

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