Softball is an offshoot of baseball played with a larger ball but a smaller pitch. Softball is prevalent in many countries, including the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
The history between softball and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is not great, and it has been featured in the Olympics only five times. Let’s understand the reasons for this.
Pursuit of softball recognition as an Olympic sport
Chicago hosted the first-ever softball game on November 24, 1887. The match was between the Harvard Crimson representing Harvard University and Yale Bulldogs representing Yale University.
The Bulldogs won the match, and a Bulldogs supporter threw a boxing glove at a crimson supporter. The Crimson supporter swung it with an available broomstick. This caught the attention of everyone watching. Chicago Board of Trade reporter George Hancock suggested both teams play a different type of baseball game. Thus, softball was born.
Softball began gaining popularity during the 1930s when the United States was recovering from the Great Depression. The sport also attracted other countries like Australia and Japan in a few years.
The first governing body of softball, the International Softball Federation (ISF), came into being in 1952. ISF began campaigning to place softball in the Summer Olympics. However, the IOC rejected the requests. It took ISF fifteen years to be recognized as a member of the IOC. In 1977, the IOC recognized softball as an official sport, almost ninety years after the invention of the sport.
Even after recognizing softball, the IOC was reluctant to include softball in the Olympics. Finally, in 1992, softball was added as an Olympic game for the 1996 Summer Olympics, and softball was featured in the next three consecutive Olympics.
Perception of softball not being a global sport
It took ISF a long journey to approve the inclusion of softball in the Olympics. However, despite adding the game to the Olympics, the IOC was not very impressed with softball.
In 2005, secret voting took place on retaining the twenty-eight sports in the Olympics. Baseball and softball lost the majority vote to stay in the Olympics. As a result, the IOC dropped softball from the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The IOC President Jacques Rogge considered softball to be disappointing. The general perception about softball among IOC officials was that it was not a very popular sport amongst worldwide audiences and lacked participation from many countries. They perceived it as an American sport and not an international game.
Not Popular Among IOC Officials
University of Texas’s official athletics website reported that ISF submitted a plea to reinstate softball in the 2012 Summer Olympics. It required the support of at least 51 percent of ISF members for reinstatement. Later, a secret ballot followed to decide the fate of softball in the 2012 Olympics. However, softball lost the majority vote by 47-43. Baseball also lost the vote.
The ISF President Don Porter perceived it as a political measure by the IOC of an anti-American nature.
In 2009, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) suggested the ISF propose a joint bid to the IOC to reinstate baseball and softball in the 2016 Olympics. However, ISF refused to join IBAF and submitted its separate request to the IOC, which rejected it.
The rejection from the Olympics was because baseball and softball were different disciplines of the same sport. Toronto Star reported in 2012 that ISF and IBAF agreed to merge to pursue reinstatement in the Olympics. In 2013, the ISF and IBAF merged to form the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
Host cities get the right to recommend sports
Softball has been popular in a few countries. However, it lacked worldwide appeal and participation, which led to it being dropped from the Olympics.
In 2016, IOC granted the hosting cities the right to recommend sports to the IOC for the Olympics. Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan, and the IOC considers softball as its discipline. The Japanese women’s softball team is a four-time softball World Cup winner. It was an advantage for baseball and softball.
The 2020 edition was held in Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo Organizing Committee proposed softball among baseball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing to the IOC for the 2020 Olympics. The IOC approved the request, and softball returned to the Olympics as a one-off event in the 2020 edition.
The 2024 edition of softball was held in Paris. The Paris Organizing Committee did not propose softball because baseball and softball are not very popular in France. It is a minor sport in France, so they don’t have many stadiums to host softball games.
The committee did not want to exceed the budget of 1.5 billion euros allocated by the French government for the Olympics. As a result, the athlete quota was reduced from 11,091 to 10,500. The committee did not invest in constructing softball stadiums or acquiring softball equipment for one-off softball events.
The IOC believes softball is not popular with the worldwide masses and is mainly famous in only a few countries. Their primary perception is that it is an American sport. However, WBSC is bidding for the addition of softball in the 2028 Olympics, which Los Angeles hosts.