No Baseball in the Los Angeles Olympics? Not Yet, Anyway
22 Dec, 2021By: Mary Helen Sprecher
The IOC has released its list of sports for Los Angeles 2028 and baseball and softball are (wait for it) out! Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance; it just means that the IOC has already said that skateboarding, surfing and competitive climbing will be there. What else is off (for now)? Boxing, weightlifting and modern pentathlon.
So what gives? Well, it all goes back to the IOC’s Agenda 2020, in which each host city is given the choice of a few “showcase sports.” This means these sports are not permanent parts of the Games and may (or may not) be included in future iterations, depending upon the whims of the city.
In Tokyo, where this was first evident, organizers chose to showcase karate, baseball and softball, climbing, skateboarding and surfing.
Baseball had not been included in the Olympic program sine 2008, when it last appeared at the Games in Beijing.
The IOC, ever in pursuit of a younger viewing demographic for the Games, latched onto climbing, skateboarding and surfing, already labeled extreme pursuits (Red Bull hosts competitions) and strongly populated by an under-30 athlete enthusiast group. When it came time for Paris (2024) to suggest sports, organizers there selected climbing, surfing (it will be hosted in Tahiti), skateboarding and breakdancing. Baseball and softball, not really appealing to the French, were left out, as was karate.
Los Angeles organizers are expected to lobby for the inclusion of baseball and softball – and other sports are rumored to be winding up their spin cycle, including cricket, functional fitness, esports, squash, lacrosse, mixed martial arts – and plenty more. It is not yet known how many of those sports will make it to the Games, nor is it known exactly when a decision will be made – although Inside The Games says a decision could come by December of 2024.
Three other sports that have been included in the Games for quite some time are also (for now) not on the list. They are weightlifting, boxing and modern pentathlon.
It might not be permanent, though. Forbes notes that the IOC’s official take on the matter is that there is “a pathway” for those sports to return in 2028. Of course, it depends upon whether they can address certain issues in the interim.
IOC president Thomas Bach dryly noted the International Boxing Association (AIBA, boxing’s international governing body) and International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) were the two “problem children of the Olympic movement.”
In order to be included in the Games in 2028, he said, the AIBA “must demonstrate that it has successfully addressed the ongoing concerns around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability, and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes”—notably its judging scandal during the 2016 Rio Games.
The IWF has a history of corrupt leadership and international doping scandals. Phil Andrews, USA Weightlifting’s CEO, told Forbes he was worried those would come back to haunt the program in years to come – and they have.
“The [IWF] has done a poor job of managing their relationship with the IOC, and it is, as it stands, likely at this stage we’ll see elimination from the Olympic games unless we address our governance issue quickly,” Andrews had said. “We USA weightlifting reformists kept the IOC engaged; there are people willing to play the IOC’s game within the sport. The game is, ‘We’d like to keep you in the Olympics; we’re ‘Faster, Stronger, Higher Together — you’re the Stronger of that.’”
Then there’s modern pentathlon. Late in the year, the UIPM (the highest sport’s governing body) announced they were planning on dropping the horseback riding component of the sport in favor of another discipline – which had yet to be announced. The change came after an incident in the recent summer Games in which German competitor Annika Schleu, who had been in the gold medal position before the show jumping aspect of the competition, was unable to control the mount she had been assigned, Saint Boy. In frustration, Schleu began punching the horse, as did her coach, Kim Raisner. Raisner was sent home from Tokyo, Schleu finished in 31st place and the global outcry (social media played no small part in it), prompted UIPM to conduct a full review as well as to discipline Raisner. So far, there has been no announcement of the discipline that will replace the show jumping.
As a result, the IOC announced that the only way the sport would remain in the Olympics (its highest showcase and essentially its only way of garnering an international audience) was if it dropped the riding discipline. An uproar followed but the IOC is standing firm on its decision.
For now, boxing, weightlifting and modern pentathlon are out but eyeing their pathway back. Baseball and softball are sure to be lobbied for, but nothing is certain. And as for anything else – who knows? We have (at least according to some sources) two years to find out.