Wrestling’s biggest fight: Getting back in the Games

Modern pentathlon seemed to be the likeliest sport to be eliminated from the Olympic program. Then perhaps taekwondo. Maybe an outside chance of one of the Asian-dominated net sports, badminton and table tennis.

Wrestling? If you saw that coming, consider taking your psychic talents to Wall Street or Vegas.

“A surprise decision,” says the AP. “A shocking move,” says Yahoo’s Maggie Hendricks.

But is it a final decision? Maybe not.

AP puts it like this:

Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.

If the federation facing the axe was the tiny modern pentathlon federation or the dysfunctional taekwondo federation, then yes, getting back in the Games would be nearly impossible.

But wrestling’s federation, FILA? Don’t be too sure. To mangle John Paul Jones’ famous quote, FILA has not yet begun to lobby.

And the international outcry is sure to be monstrous. Have you ever wanted to see the USA and Iran join forces? Get ready, ’cause here it comes.

The facts are on wrestling’s side. The last time the IOC went through this process, they released their report on each sport. A few numbers for consideration (from 2009, but it’s hard to imagine too much has changed since then):

  • Wrestling has 167 active national federations. Other sports: Archery 139, equestrian 133, field hockey 122, triathlon 116, modern pentathlon 104. (Taekwondo, surprisingly, has a healthy 186.)
  • The “average minute of TV coverage” of wrestling in the 2008 Olympics was watched by 29.5 million people globally. Field hockey: 11.8 million. Fencing: 24.3 million. Badminton: 21.2 million. Team handball: 23.3 million. Sailing: 24.5 million. Triathlon: 19.4 million. Modern pentathlon: 23.1 million. Even tennis was lower: 26.1 million. (Swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting (?!) and track and field are the big draws, as you’d expect — 40 million to 65 million. Table tennis was also over 40 million, so the people complaining about “ping pong” might want to adjust their arguments.)

Now wrestling is battling for a spot against the combined baseball/softball bid, karate, squash, roller sports (speed skating), sport climbing, wakeboarding (a modified version that will confuse the heck out of U.S. viewers) and wushu.¬†That’s a battle wrestlers should be able to win.

Then the other sports can get back in line and hope the IOC comes to its senses next time and reverses its ludicrous decision to add golf, where the costs far outweigh the benefits. Perhaps other federations can merge, as baseball and softball are doing, to try to sneak another sport into the Games.

So take heart, wrestlers. There’s a lot of time left on the clock.

 

Pro softball playoffs: A soccer lesson?

Graham Hays passes on a quote showing the extra urgency in softball, a sport with an underdog pro league and an uphill fight to get back in the Olympics.

None of us who play in this league know when our last at-bat is going to be. We don’t know when the last time we’ve ever going to play softball again is. So there wasn’t really any time to waste in the sixth inning.

Did anyone sense that urgency about women’s pro soccer from the sport’s stars? Perhaps there’s no reason to feel that way — overseas leagues, the WPSL and the W-League can always provide other options.

National Pro Fastpitch playoffs — Racers force Game 3 against Pride – espnW.

2012 ball sports: Yay, team! Except you folks with bats

Let’s see … I’ve done projections for archery, athletics, badminton … let’s call up the spreadsheet and see what’s next:

Baseball!

Oh … right.

Baseball and softball are gone from the Olympic program because, as we all know, it’s easier to turn an 18-hole golf course into an Olympic venue than it is to put a fence around a small part of an Olympic green and have baseball and softball games. Or something like that.

That still leaves us with a few team sports: Basketball, field hockey, soccer, handball, volleyball (beach and indoor) and water polo. (We’ll save synchronized swimming for later.)

Continue reading 2012 ball sports: Yay, team! Except you folks with bats

What it takes to make a pro women’s sport work

I’m surprised no one within Google’s almighty reach has invented the word “entitleninement.” A couple of generations into the Title IX-fed growth of women’s sports in the USA, we’re still seeing a few patronizing attitudes.

The College Sports Council often resorts to disingenuous arguments about the impact of Title IX.¬†Internationally, we see many more opportunities for women in Olympic sports, yet women’s ski jumpers have been kept out of the Olympics with arguments ranging from the condescending to the absurd.

Yet the CSC makes a few legitimate points as well, and it takes pains to distinguish its fight to save men’s sports from a fight to deny women opportunities. And within women’s sports, and Olympic sports as a whole, we’re seeing more of a realization of the difficulties of building and maintaining pro competition.

All of which makes softball player Jessica Mendoza’s post for ESPNW rather curious. She explains why she and other U.S. national team players have decided to concentrate on building a pro league rather than playing for the national team, which no longer has an Olympic presence every four years.

The key paragraph:

As much as I want to see softball return to the Olympic Games, there is something this sport needs even more: an opportunity for women to play softball for a living. Not as a side job. Not just recreationally. Instead, they should be able to make a living playing the sport they love so dearly. Softball players shouldn’t have to stop playing at age 22 because there are so few opportunities out there. And they shouldn’t have to live abroad, like basketball players did in the pre-WNBA era, because only other countries’ pro leagues are willing to pay them to play. I have seen more and more women in other sports (snowboarding, basketball, tennis, BMX and golf, to name a few) create opportunities to play for a living because of the professional opportunities they, and sponsors, have created. My dream now is to create these same professional opportunities for every young softball player out there.

That’s ambitious. But is it realistic?

Mendoza cites Billie Jean King as a mentor and gives a brief history of the women’s tennis movement that has proved so successful. Snowboarding also has women’s stars alongside men’s stars, and many Olympic sports have women whose fame and fortune hardly lags their male counterparts. Think Lindsey Vonn, Michelle Kwan, Allyson Felix, Dara Torres, Kerri Walsh, etc.

But at the same time, the LPGA is limping along. Women’s soccer is trying to re-entrench itself in a smaller niche. And most women’s basketball players still go overseas in the WNBA offseason because they’re not raking in the dough while the league tries to keep the ship steady in the USA.

Softball deserves better than it got from the IOC, which has made a mockery of its supposed gender-equity aspirations. But after covering the WPS draft last week in a mid-sized convention room with no players present, I’m not sure I could be bullish on another women’s sports league starting from scratch. And you won’t see any soccer players this summer turning down an invitation to the World Cup to give 110 percent for Sky Blue FC or magicTalk SC / Washington Freedom. WPS made it to a third season only through a couple of owners’ determination to persevere and a couple of new owners’ enthusiasm for moving up to the highest level and, in the case of MTSCWF, promoting a brand name.

If National Pro Fastpitch succeeds, it’ll need either a few benefactors who believe in some combination of the sport itself and the opportunity to get some marketing/self-satisfaction from attaching brand names to it. It won’t succeed merely because that would be the fairest outcome for 22-year-old college softball standouts who somehow deserve a chance to devote themselves fully to their sport. Plenty of people have talents that can’t pay all the bills — in Olympic sports, mixed martial arts, music, creative writing, art … even journalism.

The question will be: How many professional softball players can the USA support? In women’s soccer, we can easily support a national team of 25-30 full-time players, and we’re working on pushing that number to a couple hundred. In beach volleyball, both men’s and women’s, the AVP’s demise has reduced the opportunities so that just a couple of elite teams playing internationally have much of a chance.

Creative solutions can help. Americans are lucky to have college scholarships to provide training environments and an education. Sometimes, an employer like Home Depot comes up with a program to give Olympians flexible jobs to let them work and compete.

Nothing wrong with aiming for full-time professionalism. But staying open to creative business plans will surely increase pro softball’s chances.