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(ATR) International Softball Federation president Don Porter tellsAround the Ringsnothing is set in stone– including the name softball itself – as he partners with baseball for another Olympic pitch.
ATR spoke to Porter while he awaits word from the IOC as to whether a plan to team up with baseball for a return to the Olympic program in time for 2020 can, in fact, move forward.
Though such a joint proposal is without precedent, Porter has high hopes. Read on to find out why.
Around the Rings: Why the change of heart with regards to joining forces with the International Baseball Federation (IBAF)?
Don Porter: Our main purpose is to try to work our way back to the Olympic program. We’re disappointed naturally that we’re off the program, but I think we had a very good run in the four Games we did participate in.
At this point here, our situation with IBAF is that we have had several discussions during February and March and again in London during SportAccord as to whether there is a way we could work together but still retain our identity as individual sports. I think that’s very important, both to us and to baseball.
There were ways we felt we could work together, and we have done that in some other parts of the world in some competitions where we’ve been able to share venues and scheduling times and other technical parts of our sports.
We met with IOC sports director Cristophe Dubi during SportAccord to see whether there were any problems from the IOC’s standpoint. They were going to look into it and see if there were any problems legally or as it refers to the IOC Charter.
The issue of whether we would work or collaborate with baseball is on hold for the time being.
ATR: Should the IOC allow ISF and IBAF to work together, what must softball and baseball show the IOC to win back their place at the Olympics?
DP: There are a number of changes that we’re looking at.
One includes the name of our sport. There are several possibilities with that.
We want to also make it very clear that our sport wants to both be a universal sport, but we also want to certainly have quality to our sport, and that’s why we’re looking at things that might make our sport more interesting and more accommodating from the standpoint of TV, media, facilities, commercially, so we’re exploring a number of things.
We’ve just organized an Olympic legacy committee that’s going to be reviewing a number of the various issues.
We’re concentrating a lot on our youth program, 12-under and 16-under, especially young female athletes and developing programs for them.
We’ve got other disciplines within softball, and we’re going to explore the possibilities of expanding those disciplines. Before, we concentrated so much on women’s fast-pitch softball, which is the Olympic discipline, and now we want to look at some of the other disciplines that we have. One is slow-pitch, and another is co-ed slow pitch. We have a beach softball discipline, an arena softball one and so on.Those are things we’re looking at to open the door and not just concentrate on one discipline of our sport.
And also men: we’ve got very competitive men’s programs, both in fast-pitch and slow-pitch and masters.
So there’s a lot of things going for us. We just have to sort out what going’s to best get our sport back on top so that we have opportunities that are out there for us, especially of coursethe Olympic program.
ATR: You mentioned name changes. What else would softball be called?
DP: We’ve had several that have been suggested to us. As I said, our legacy committee is going to start actively reviewing a number of things, including that.
One is fastball. Another is diamond ball, and another just recently was bat ball.
And then, of course, we already have fast-pitch, which is one of our disciplines currently.
So those are some possibilities there.
ATR:Is the biggest compromise that softball would have to make in a joint bid with baseball the venue?
DP: I think it probably would be.
The other issues would probably be able to be worked out: the number of athletes on the teams and the Games scheduling and so on. So those are all issues that would be easy probably to work out once we know we’d be able to move in that direction pending the IOC’s decision.
There’s not that much difference in the venues. It only takes less than 24 hours to convert. Actually, less than that, to convert from one to the other. We’ve done that in the past in some of our world championships and some of our other competitions.
ATR:What feedback did you get from Christophe Dubi at your presentation to him in London?
DP: I think he was somewhat positive at the time, but he couldn’t commit to anything because he had to review this with others as there were some possibilities of some legal issues and whether or not the Olympic Charter would allow it.
ATR: Was your refusal to join forces with IBAF in the past mostly about protecting softball’s turf, or do you have a desire to get men’s softball in the Olympics and that’s why you'd prefer your sport not come in jointly with baseball?
DP: Well, we offered to the IOC in our presentation back in 2009 to include men’s softball as part of our submission, and so that was on the table.
We definitely would certainly like to have men’s softball. As I said, it’s extremely competitive and would fit in quite well. So that would still be on the table, but again that’s up to the IOC.
ATR: And fast-pitch is the discipline you’re proposing?
DP: Yes, because it’s the one being played in more countries and is very competitive at this point in a number of the major competitions, including not only our world championships but as I said a number of multi-sport Games.
ATR: If the IOC rules out an ISF-IBAF partnership, will the ISF just go it alone for 2020?
DP: We’re not giving up. Our interest is to give back the Olympic dream to a lot of young athletes that lost that Olympic dream back in 2005. We owe it to them to pursue this. As long as we feel we have an opportunity and a chance to regain our Olympic status, mainly again for the athletes, then we’re going to do it.
ATR: Should softball miss out on 2020, where do you go from there? Do you keep pitching the sport every chance you get?
DP: Oh, yes.
We’d be disappointed, but as I pointed out with all the different disciplines we’ve got going on and the various competitions and the development of our sport, that’s important to us to see it continue to grow all over the world.
We want to again show the IOC that we are a universal sport, and that’s something that we won’t give up on whether we’re back in the Olympics or not because I think it’s important for young people, especially young kids, to have opportunities to play sport.
Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.