Baseball, Softball, Squash & Wrestling Battle for 2020 Summer Olympic Inclusion

Jed HughesCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2013

Jennie Finch helped the U.S. win gold in 2004 and is one of the most recognizable figures in women's softball.
Jennie Finch helped the U.S. win gold in 2004 and is one of the most recognizable figures in women's softball.Al Bello/Getty Images

On September 8, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will choose between Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid as the host city for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in 2020.

Another highly anticipated vote during the 125th IOC meeting in Buenos Aires will be whether baseball/softball, wrestling or squash will be added to the roster of Summer Olympic sports.

Of course, the wrestling community has waged a spirited campaign since IOC leaders voted in February to drop it from the Olympics.

The IOC reviewed 26 summer sports in order to eliminate—and later replace—one of them with a new sport. Criteria included ticket sales at the London games, TV ratings, web hits and global participation. 

Many expected modern pentathlona combination of horse riding, swimming, running, fencing and shootingto be eliminated. However, that was not the case.

The decision to cut wrestling, a sport that dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and has been part of the modern Olympics since its inception in 1896, was surprising. Athletes from 79 countries participated in the 2012 Olympic games in London, where wrestlers from 29 different nations won medals.

The U.S., Russia and Iranunlikely allies, to say the leasthave been particularly active in efforts to reinstate the sport.

FILA, the international governing body that oversees wrestling, has made changes including electing a new president, putting more women in decision-making positions and adopting rule changes to make the sport more exciting and easier to understand. 

Olympic legends Dan Gable, a gold medalist at the Munich games in 1972, and Cael Sanderson, who won gold in Athens in 2004, are among the top American voices supporting an Olympic comeback.

Rulon Gardner, who shocked the world by beating the previously undefeated Russian Aleksandr Karelin for gold in Greco-Roman wrestling in 2000, has been a leader in the campaign. Henry Cejudo, the youngest American ever to win a wrestling gold medal at age 21 in Beijing in 2008, has also been a leader in the public relations efforts.

There is a Save Olympic Wrestling Facebook page and a website devoted to the cause. Wrestling seems to have a lot of momentum in its favor.

Meanwhile, baseball and softball have joined forces in a push for an Olympic return. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is leading the campaign to have the sports reinstated at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Among the supporters lending their names to the effort are U.S. softball legend Jennie Finch and Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh, who hit 868 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants.

In fact, softball is one of the most popular sports in the world for women, and it is played in more than 140 countries and expanding its reach daily, especially in Muslim countries. Officials are hoping that softball's widespread global accessibility to young women and girls will be a mitigating factor in its favor when the Olympic vote is taken.

"We hope the IOC can find a way to make those dreams come true for millions of these girls and young women," said Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) in a press release highlighting a Special Olympics Softball tournament held in New Jersey last month that assembled 23 teams of players from the U.S., Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, baseball is hurt by the fact that MLB will not disrupt its season to let the game's top stars participate in the Olympics.

Additionally, although baseball is played in many countries and has established the World Baseball Classic to highlight its international reach, baseball is still viewed as primarily an American sport.

Clearly, this perception does not help the cause.

A dark horse could be squash, which is played in more than 185 countries across the globe and is popular in countries, such as Egypt, that are not traditional Olympic powers. However, squash has twice applied and failed to become an Olympic sport.

In truth, over the decades, the IOC has proven unpredictable.

Wrestling seems to have a groundswell of support, outrage over its exclusion and an unlikely political alliance in its favor.

Softball will highlight its millions of female participants, while squash will benefit from its wide-reaching international popularity and the fact that is not viewed as a sport where Americans are expected to dominate.

Needless to say, the eyes of the sporting world will be on Buenos Aires this week.


Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.