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Rob Smaal

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IBAF pushes for baseball's return in 2016 Olympics

by Rob Smaal (Feb 20, 2009)

Dr. Harvey Schiller is a man on a mission.

His mission--and yes, he has chosen to accept it--is to get baseball reinstated to the Olympic Games.

"I'm confident that we will have a representative group of the best players in baseball for the 2016 tournament," Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation, said Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in downtown Tokyo.

The 2008 Beijing Games marked the 12th time that baseball was played in the Olympics as either a demonstration sport or a full-medal sport. Since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, baseball had enjoyed full-medal status, but at an IOC meeting in 2005, baseball and softball were voted out of the Games.

That means they will not be on the docket at the London 2012 Games, but they are among seven sports that will be voted on at an IOC general assembly in October in the hopes of being reinstated for the 2016 Olympics, which Tokyo is bidding to host. The other sports in the running are golf, roller sports, squash, rugby and karate, with one or two likely to get the nod for 2016.

"Generally, for a sport to be chosen, it must satisfy the criteria of being played in 75 countries on at least four continents," explained Chiharu Igaya, an IOC vice president who has taken on the role of senior adviser to a group from Japan pushing to get baseball back in the Games. "At the general assembly in October, 115 IOC members will be eligible to vote. It's important that these people are informed about the sport."

And that's where Schiller comes in.

The biggest knocks on baseball are that the major leagues are unwilling to shut down during the Games in order to allow the world's best players to participate and the MLB anti-drug policy is not in line with WADA, the world anti-doping agency which the Olympics subscribe.

"(Major League) Baseball is a big business, but you don't have to shut baseball down to have a representative group of the best players," said Schiller. "Just as the Premier League doesn't stop playing football and Olympic sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, don't shut their factories down (during the Olympics)."

Schiller said MLB commissioner Bud Selig has issued a statement saying that 2016 would represent the best players ever to take part in an Olympic tournament, and to accommodate their participation the IBAF has a few ideas.

"One of the proposals we have made to the International Olympic Committee is to have a shortened tournament, perhaps five days long, similar what was done in ice hockey when they brought in their professional players," Schiller said. "A short tournament ... would allow a pitcher to come in from anywhere and pitch one game.

"Over the last 16 years (since Barcelona 1992), we have increased the level of professional players (in the Olympics) as well as the quality of players," Schiller continued. "Keep in mind that basketball didn't have NBA players until 1992, and ice hockey didn't have professional players from the NHL until 1998. Almost all Olympic sports have the same challenge: How do you get the best players to the Olympic Games? We will work to accomplish that."

Schiller also pointed out that the World Baseball Classic has increased the interest of players when it comes to representing their countries, so attracting top talent for Olympic duty won't be a problem.

What continues to be a problem, however, is the ongoing spate of steroid-related scandals plaguing Major League Baseball with high-profile names like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and, more recently, Alex Rodriguez all either admitting taking performance-enhancing drugs or being suspected of it.

"The key to this is that we're heading to a no-tolerance kind of activity," said Schiller, a chemist by trade. "The fact that government is now in the middle of it and prosecuting people, and I think the shame that people feel when they're exposed, will help the overall effort, just as it has in other sports.

"I think it's in everybody's best interests to get this thing fixed. I can't point my finger at other sports, but if you measure us against other Olympic sports, where do we stand? We're increasing the number of tests, we have out-of-competition testing, we've hired a great guy to administer the program who used to work for WADA, we're picking the best labs."

With the IBAF-sanctioned WBC just around the corner, Schiller is keeping his fingers crossed that there will not be any embarrassing test results coming out of the tournament.

"If any player in the Classic is stupid enough to take drugs and test positive during this tournament he should never be allowed on a baseball field anywhere," Schiller emphasized.

As Schiller continues to lobby for his spot, baseball fans can only hope that his efforts will result in a mission accomplished.


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