Originally created 11/30/02

IOC puts off decision on deleting sports until after 2004



MEXICO CITY -- Baseball, softball and modern pentathlon are staying in the Olympics, for now at least.

Three months after an Olympic panel proposed dropping the three sports for the 2008 Beijing Games, the IOC decided Friday to put off that vote until after the 2004 Athens Games.

The decision appears to sharply reduce the chances the sports will be dropped from Beijing's schedule, because of the short amount of notice. Also, the vote probably rules out the chances of golf or rugby being added for Beijing, as had been proposed.

The two-year postponement was a defeat for International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who had commissioned the proposed changes and pushed for a vote this week.

After 10-minute presentations to the assembly by leaders of the three endangered sports, dozens of rank-and-file IOC members took the floor to question the whole process and push for a postponement.

Of the 39 speakers, not a single one spoke in favor of the proposals to cut the sports.

"It is urgent to wait," Senegalese member Youssoupha Ndiaye said in a statement that summed up much of the 2 1/2 -hour debate.

Rogge then conferred with his executive board and submitted a proposal to put off any deletion of sports until after Athens.

Of the 117 attending members, only two raised their hands against the postponement, while four abstained. On a separate motion, the members approved the "general principles" of the IOC's review of the sports program.

The last sport dropped from the Summer Olympics was polo in 1936, and IOC members made clear they had no desire for radical change now.

The IOC program commission recommended in August that the three sports be cut from the Beijing Olympics. The report cited lack of global popularity, high venue costs and, in the case of baseball, the absence of top major league players.

But the sports waged a successful lobbying campaign, and many IOC members said they had not been given sufficient input or time to make a decision.

Baseball has been a medal sport since 1992. Softball, a women-only event, was added in 1996. Modern pentathlon, a five-sport discipline created by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin, was introduced in 1912.

Softball brought out Croatian player Jelena Tomic, who noted that the Olympic Charter stresses the need for increased participation of women in the games.

"To take away the dream from so many girls is like banning women from all sports in the Olympics," she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Baseball federation chief Aldo Notari of Italy noted that he had proposed reducing the Olympic tournament from 11 days to five days, a move which would improve the chances of major leaguers taking part.

"The fact that the best athletes are not included in the games - this definitely will be solved by Beijing," he insisted.

Removing his sport from the Olympics would be "the end of baseball as a world sport," Notari said.

Israeli member Alex Gilady criticized major league baseball for failing to release top players for the Olympics.

"Major league baseball so far is part of the problem and not part of the solution," he said. "If the Olympics is so important to them, they can show us."

The head of the modern pentathlon federation, Klaus Schormann, said being dropped from the Olympics would kill his sport altogether.

"Don't send us to the Olympic museum," he said.

Rogge led off the debate by noting that the IOC had added more and more sports since the 1948 London Olympics - with the games growing from 17 sports, 137 events and fewer than 5,000 athletes in London, to 28 sports, 301 events and 10,500 athletes today.

"If we want to make decisions for 2008, the time is now and not in a couple of years," he said.

But when Rogge opened the issue for debate, it quickly became clear he had no support.

French member Jean-Claude Killy set the tone by proposing a postponement until after Athens. Even Britain's Princess Anne, who rarely speaks in the IOC sessions, took the floor.

"How can you exclude either a sport or an event if the IFs (international federations) concerned do not know what the criteria are supposed to be?" she said.

Others questioned how the IOC could delete sports for Beijing when there is a rule in the Olympic Charter stating that no changes can be made seven years before the games.

Rogge said the Court of Arbitration for Sport had given him assurances there were no legal obstacles to voting sports out for 2008.