Gregg Timm was disappointed but not surprised earlier this month, when it was announced that softball and baseball had been left off the Olympic roster for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Games.
The two sports, which are packaged together for Olympic purposes, were, after all, up against stiff competition for inclusion into the Games. Wrestling, which was knocked from the list of sports seven months ago despite a centuries-old tradition in the Olympics, was the heavy favourite to reclaim its spot, and easily defeated baseball/softball and squash by securing 49 of 97 first-round votes during an International Olympic Committee vote last week. Baseball and softball received 26 votes, and squash 22. Only one spot for the Toyko-hosted 2020 Games was available. The 2024 Olympics have not yet been awarded to a host city.
After this month’s vote to reinstate wrestling, IOC officials admitted eliminating the sport in the first place was a mistake.
“It was pretty clear to us going into the vote that the result was going to in favour of wrestling,” said Timm, president of the White Rock Renegades, one of the country’s top youth fastpitch programs, which has sent a handful of players to the Canadian national team over the years.
Despite the odds being against reinstatement from the beginning, White Rock Renegades alum Sara Groenewegen – about to begin her freshman season at the University of Minnesota – was still saddened by the result.
“I definitely thought we had a chance,” said the Elgin Park Secondary grad, who spent much of the summer with Canada’s national team.
“And as much as it hurts that my chance of becoming an Olympian was shot… we need to keep fighting as hard as we can, and keep supporting the (two) sports for the next generation.”
Softball and baseball were first introduced as Olympic sports in 1996, and was voted out in 2005; they were last played at the Beijing-hosted Olympics in 2008.
“Clearly, they made a mistake with softball and baseball in 2005, and it’s been a long road – and it will continue to be a long road – to get that unravelled,” Timm continued.
Simon Fraser University softball coach Mike Renney – who coached Canadian teams at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics – was, like Timm, unsurprised at the vote, adding that wrestling deserved the spot as much as any other sport.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed… We just got caught in a political tug of war,” he said.
“If anything, wrestling’s an iconic Olympic sport. If it came down to it, I would have probably voted for wrestling, too.”
On the men’s baseball side, White Rock native Leon Boyd was similarly disappointed to hear of the diamond sports’ failed bid for reinstatement.
Boyd, a duel Canadian-Dutch citizen, pitched for the Netherlands in 2008 in Beijing.
“I figured it would be close between them and wrestling because of wrestling’s rich Olympic history,” said Boyd, 30, from Holland, where he was wrapping up his season in the Dutch pro baseball league.
Boyd, a former White Rock Triton, said the feeling amongst his teammates was one of sadness, especially among the younger players, who may have had a chance to compete at the 2020 Olympics.
“We had just played our last game of the year and a bunch of us were watching the live feed of the IOC decision process,” he said.
“It was pretty disappointing to hear the results, not for me to have another chance, but for both sports in general. This will affect the youth players with (Olympic) aspirations.”
Timm, also the founder and president of the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship, echoed Groenewegen’s thoughts that those in the softball community needed to continue to fight for the sports’ inclusion.
“Softball is growing exponentially and will continue to spread,” he said, adding that 127 countries are registered with the International Softball Federation, and that Olympic officials won’t be able to ignore that growth forever.
“The Olympics is kind of a generational thing now, so we are pretty confident that this will get righted eventually, but it’ll be by a new generation of people, a new phase.
“Softball was a viable sport before the Olympics, and will continue to be after them. But it’s continuing to grow, and at the end of the day, the truth is the truth.”