Olympics: Will Baseball Ever Return to the Summer Games?

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Olympics: Will Baseball Ever Return to the Summer Games?
Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee

London 2012 marks the first time in over two decades that baseball was not played at the Olympics.

Bad blood between Major League Baseball and the International Olympic Committee is holding baseball from re-entry, and unless one organization bows to the other, baseball is unlikely to return any time soon.

The sport was voted out of the 2012 Olympics in 2005, and in 2009 was denied re-admittance to the 2016 games.

There were two main reasons for the sport’s initial ban in 2005. Just months before the IOC expelled baseball, the sport's shame hit an all-time high. Congress publicly questioned players and scolded officials for lenient drug policies. To an Olympic committee already worried about PEDs, baseball undoubtedly seemed radioactive.

The second main reason for ousting baseball was the fact that the MLB refused to put the season on hold to allow players to participate.  IOC members felt slighted, and have since stated that the presence of MLB players is necessary for Olympic inclusion. 

But baseball has come a long way since 2005. The MLB now has much stricter drug testing standards, and fans, players and officials have moved on from the steroid era. 

The only thing holding the sport back are the egos of IOC board members, who seem bent on subjugating the MLB to their will. But as baseball becomes increasingly international, the IOC will be depriving more than just American fans.

Commissioner Bug Selig and MLBPA President Donald Fuhr at a Congressional Hearing in 2005

The International Baseball Federation now consists of 118 different members. Compare this to Rugby, a sport which will replace baseball in the 2016 games.

The International Rugby Board only has 98 members.

And with the field of the World Baseball Classic increasing to 28 nations in 2013, baseball is undeniably an international sensation.

The 737,112 attendees at the WBC in 2009 was an 8.5 percent rise from 2006, and international television ratings soared as well. ESPN Deportes saw outstanding ratings, and the finals from 2006 and 2009 still stand as the two most-watched sports broadcasts in Japanese television history. 

But the success of the WBC may be an obstacle, as the MLB seems content to leave their own creation as the world's foremost display of international baseball. And meanwhile, the IOC still demands the MLB let players participate in the games.  

"If they don't propose their best athletes it will be difficult," said an executive member of the IOC, as reported by ESPN.

Disallowing a sport that prevents its best athletes from competing would be a reasonable argument for the exclusion of baseball, but the world’s most popular sport is guilty of this offense.

With the exception of three roster spots, all men on Olympic soccer teams must be under the age of 23. Regardless of reasoning for that rule, it prevents some of the games greatest athletes from participating in Olympic soccer.

A Japanese team with only five MLB players celebrates their 2009 WBC victory

It always comes back to the ego of the IOC. A pompous organization filled primarily with Europeans, a continent notably lacking enthusiasm for baseball, the IOC is notorious for a number of corruption scandals in the recent decades.

Leaders of the bid for re-entry, the International Baseball Federation, met with MLB officials on August 1st to discuss possible concessions to the IOC, but the results have not been revealed.

Possibilities include a short Olympic tournament with a later All-Star break and no All-Star Game, in order to get some MLB players to the games. Another possibility would be to have the major league players only present for medal-round games, according to ESPN.

But the MLB has been just as stubborn as the IOC. 

“You can’t shut down major league baseball, you just can’t do it and nobody can reasonably expect us to,” MLB Players Association president Donald Fehr said in 2005 (h/t ESPN). “Baseball will go on just fine. It’s never depended in any way, shape or form even slightly on the Olympics.”

It seems unlikely that either organization will yield, making the outlook for baseball returning to the summer games a grim prospect. 

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