I love diamonds. Not the diamond I wear on my finger, but the diamond I run after hitting a softball thrown going 60 miles an hour. This is where I spent a great deal of my childhood and teen years. My best friends were my teammates, my dad was one of the coaches and my mom was the official scorekeeper and unofficial head cheerleader. I remember waking up at 3:00 am, along with my mom, sisters and often times teammates, to watch our US Women’s Softball team dominate in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. My love for diamonds, along with thousands of other girls in the United States, led to a dream of representing my country on the Olympic Softball Team and bringing home the gold. These dreams were shattered when it was announced the following year that Women’s softball was being dropped from the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which states gender equality is a priority for the organization, has failed females with their decision to remove softball from the Summer Olympics. This decision is popularly believed to be, in large part, due to the dominance of the United States Women’s softball team. I still love diamonds, I still run around them after hitting a softball thrown at me going 60 miles an hour, and I still have a dream to, one day, bring home gold for my country.
The IOC’s mission statement says, “The Olympic Charter states that one of the roles of the IOC is ‘to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women’ – (Rule 2, paragraph 7)”. (Factsheet, Women in the Olympic Movement) We are definitely seeing progress in establishing equality between the genders. According to Women in the Olympic Movement, a publication of International Olympic Committee, women were first included in the 1900 Olympics, which were the 2nd Olympics held. Women were in 2 events, comprising 2.1% of the participants. (Factsheet, Women in the Olympic Movement) These numbers have dramatically improved over the years. Peter Donnelly and Michele Donnelly, authors of “The London 2012 Olympics, a gender equality audit”, state “There were 136 women’s events and 166 men’s events at the London 2012 Olympics. Of these, 48 events on the program were gender exclusive (i.e., there were medal opportunities for men but not for women and vice versa): 39 events were open only to men (23.5% of men’s events), and nine events were open only to women (6.6% of women’s events). Together, these exclusive events constituted 15.9% of the Olympic program”. (Donnelly, Peter, and Michele Donnelly) Softball was not one of the events included in the 2012 Summer Olympics, an Olympics which had, as stated above, 39 male only events versus 9 female only events. If the IOC is truly focused on gender equality, why remove a sport from the Olympics which is strictly comprised of female participants? Comparing the gender specific events appears to give validity to the theory that the USA’s dominance in the field played a role in the determination to drop the sport from the Olympics.
The first Olympics in which the sport of softball competed was in the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, Georgia. (Evans 2) Team USA played a total of 9 games, and won 8 out of the nine, losing only to Australia, 2 to 1. Team USA did make it to the final game, in which they defeated China, 3 to 1, to take home the Gold. In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Team USA played a total of 10 games, in which they won 7 out of the 10. Again they made the final game, and defeated Japan 2 to 1, to once again bring home the Gold. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Team USA played a total of 9 games and won all 9, which included the final game against Australia. They won 5 – 1, once again becoming Gold Medalists. (USA Softball 1) Not only were they undefeated during this Olympics, Team USA also managed to break 18 Olympic records, including 7 which they had previously held. These broken records included: most stolen bases, highest team batting average, most runs scored, most wins and most home runs. (Team USA) In their final Olympic participation, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, Team USA played a total of 9 games, and won 8, losing in the final game to Japan, 3 – 1, which resulted in them bringing home the Silver Medal. This was an especially heartbreaking loss because this was the 3rd time Team USA played Team Japan at this Olympics, beating Japan 7 to 0, and then 4 to 1. (USA Softball) According to TeamUSA.org, “The USA Softball Women’s National Team program has brought home a total of 9 gold medals, making them perhaps the most successful team sport on the Olympic program over the last 3 decades.” (Team USA)
A second reason that the 2008 Silver Medal finish was so heartbreaking was because the IOC announced in 2005 that the 2008 Summer Olympics would be the final Olympic Games softball would be competing in. (Team USA) The voting process by the IOC is secretive, so what the final vote was is unknown. The final results are what matter, and the results were the dropping of baseball and softball after the 2008 Olympics. There is strong support for the view that the United States Softball Program was just too good. According to Brian Gomez, of The Gazette, “It’s easy to see why most contend the International Olympic Committee dropped softball. Baseball also got dumped in 2005. Because the US is so good that even countries with established programs like Australia, China, and Japan aren’t competitive.” (Gomez 1) Likewise, the International Softball Federation (ISF) President Don Porter was quoted as saying, “I can’t really say that the best thing to happen is for them to lose. It is up to them. They want to win. We don’t want to say that we want the US to go out and lay down. That’s not fair to the athletes.”(Gomez 2) Mike Candrea, Coach of the USA Women’s Softball team for 2004 and 2008, said “If we get penalized because of our excellence then there is something wrong with the Olympic games.” (Hairopoulos 2) According to Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated, “Team USA may have been too good for its own long-term good. Softball has much to recommend it–no Rotisserie leagues, for one thing–but total U.S. domination could turn off a wary IOC, which has not guaranteed a slot for the sport after 2008. Candrea argues that the Olympics ‘are about raising the bar,’ and that to take that bar and whack the Americans on the head with it simply because they have been so superb would be penalizing excellence rather than rewarding it.” (Farber 1)
So as the summer Olympics begin without the sport of softball being represented, there is some encouraging news; a strong movement to reinstate softball into the summer Olympics. The movement started immediately after the devastating loss to Japan in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. As recounted in Sports Illustrated, September 1, 2008, edition, “The fear of another no vote made Beijing Fengtai Stadium (the softball venue), a tempting time capsule. As they stepped off the medal stand, players from Japan, the US and Australia, in Gold, Silver and Bronze, respectively wanted to leave something on the infield to remind everyone Olympic Softball lived here. Some retiring players, including Berg, laid their cleats at home plate for closure. Mendoza wanted to leave a statement of hope. She grabbed a Japanese translator and pointed to buckets of softballs. ‘You want to throw the’, the interpreter asked? ‘I want to write something with them.’ Mendoza replied. Suddenly global rivals bonded as displaced Olympians, were arranging softballs to form a number: 2016. The message to the IOC? Vote Yes.” (Roberts 2)
The International Softball Federation is also active in the effort to reinstate softball into the Olympic Games, with a “Back Softball” Campaign and a 10 point plan to expand the popularity of sport worldwide. (Hairopoulos 2) Jessica Mendoza, a member of the 2008 USA Olympic Softball team, is also doing her part to introduce girls around the world, to softball. She is conducting clinics in countries that have start up programs to help encourage young players to continue in the sport. (11) And for many this is not just about the sport; it is about making a difference in young girls’ lives. As Jennie Finch, the pitcher for the 2008 Olympic Softball Team, told The Dallas Morning News during one of her photo shoots, “We’re going to have to do everything we can to prove that we belong in the Olympics. In the US millions of girls have the option of getting a scholarship and playing in college. But in other countries, the Olympics is the only place to pursue their dream. We want to continue that dream for the young girls in Croatia or China. 3.
Tom Hanks, in the movie “A League of Their Own”, tells a softball player that there is no crying in baseball. (A League of Their Own) And this is a rule I have lived by. When I have gotten hit by a pitch, I have walked it off without tears. If I struck out or made an error I did not cry. But softball continuing to be left out of the Olympics is something that brings me to tears. The International Olympic Committee has failed females around the world in their bid for gender equality in the games by removing softball as an event. If only they had listened to Carol Channing, in the musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” they would have known that, in the end, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).
A League of Their Own, 1992 Donnelly, Peter, and Michele Donnelly. “The London 2012 Olympics – a Gender Equality Audit.” Play the Game. University of Aarthus, 3 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2014. <http://www.playthegame.org/knowledge-bank/articles/the-london-2012-olympics-a-gender-equality-audit-5567.html>. Evans, Murray. “The World Cup of Softball: Making Major Olympic Pitch.” AP Regional State Report [Oklahoma] 10 July 2013: n. pag. Print.
“Factsheet, Women in the Olympic Movement.” A Publication of the International Olympic Committee 20 Oct. 2013: 1-5. Print.
Farber, Michael. “On Top of the World.” Sports Illustrated 30 Aug. 2004: n. pag. Print. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1949 Gomez, Brian. “U.S. Softball Team maintains its dominance, and perhaps its demise.” The Gazette [Colorado Springs] 18 Aug. 2008: n. pag. Print. Hairopoulos, Kate. “Softball strives to show that sport should be a fixture at Olympics.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 2 June 2008: n. pag. Print. O’Halloran, Ryan. “Success Proves Cruel for US.” The Washington Times [Washington DC] 19 Aug. 2008: n. pag. Print. Roberts, Selena. “The Final Out?” Sports Illustrated 1 Sept. 2008: n. pag. Print. Softball.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://www.softball.org.nz/softball+NZ/ History.html>. “Softball’s Olympic Pitch.” USA Today 3 Sept. 2013: n. pag. Print. Team USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://www.teamusa.org/usa-softball/team-usa/history/ women>. USA Softball. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/Team-USA/ History>. USA Softball. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <http://63.76.74170/folders.asp?uid=4518>.