By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
On the clear glass doors of the International Softball Federation headquarters, off Park Road in Plant City, is a painted depiction of the famous Olympic rings.
Inside, just in front of the doors, a trophy case sits filled with medals, plaques and other Olympic memorabilia. To the left, over the receptionist’s desk, are five international clocks, color coded and organized in the shape of the Olympic rings. And directly to the left is a table supporting two large gold softballs, each displaying the sites of the 2000 and 2004 Games — Athens and Sydney — with flags on either side of the table, one with the rings and the other representing the ISF.
Since 1996, the ISF and the Olympics have been synonymous with one another, but at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in London, the partnership will be nonexistent. That’s because in 2005 in Singapore, the International Olympic Committee held a vote for a full review of all Olympic sports. Softball missed the cut to be kept on the Olympic program after a 52-52 vote, making the 2008 Games in Beijing the last that the sport would be included.
“We’re trying to find ways to get our sport back on the program and once again make the dream of playing in the Olympics a reality for thousands of young girls,” said Don Porter, the president of the ISF and a leading advocate in the quest to reinstate the sport.
Visitors to the ISF website, www.isfsoftball.org, first come to a splash page, showing well-known international stars of the sport, including USA’s Jennie Finch, Japan’s Satoko Mabuchi and Kristi de Vries of the Netherlands. The text reads, “They realized their Olympic dreams.” Just below are three faces of younger players with the text, “Now give them their chance.”
One of Porter’s desk drawers is filled with letters and printed emails, all from the young girls affected by the IOC’s decision.
“I probably had 500 to 800 emails from girls from all around the world,” he said. “They all had Olympic dreams and were very disappointed in the decision. I reflect on those just about every day, and I keep them in my desk for a reason.”
The ISF has established the official Olympic Softball Reinstatement Campaign to get the sport back in the Summer Olympic Games.
For nearly five decades, the ISF has been at the forefront of the sport. More recently, it not only has facilitated tournaments and international meetings and seminars but also has served as an ambassador to promote the game around the world.
Since 2002, the ISF has sent nearly $3.5 million in equipment and gear to 101 countries around the world, introducing the sport to some and growing the game in others. Starter kits containing balls, bats, gloves, catcher gear and other essentials to field at least two teams for a game sit in a storage room at the ISF headquarters, each labeled with their eventual destination — Afghanistan, Botswana, India and many others.
Because of these efforts, the sport is being played in more than 125 countries.
“We’re constantly trying to find ways to develop and promote our sport,” he said. “In a number of countries, softball equipment is not available or just too expensive. We try to get this equipment into school systems, where young people can play softball.”
For Yu Fang, an orphan Porter met during a clinic the ISF put on during the Beijing Games in 2008, softball is not just a sport but also an escape from life’s troubles.
“After the clinic, she was selected to throw out the first pitch at the opening game of the Olympics,” Porter noted. “That’s another reason why we’re doing this, because those kids are orphans and wanted and needed something in their lives besides the dismal situation that they’re in.”
Getting the sport back into the Olympics is beneficial in other ways, as well. Its inclusion brings a significant amount of money to the ISF, a non-profit organization. That money would be used to continue efforts to spread the love of the game across the globe.It also would bring more national and international tournaments to Plant City Stadium and fund the construction of the proposed International Softball Hall of Fame, which would be housed at the ISF headquarters.
Porter and his staff left for London July 20 in a continued effort to lobby to bring the sport he and so many others love, back to the Olympics. Softball is currently on the short list, along with seven others, of sports that can be added to the 2020 Summer Olympic program, the earliest date the sport can be reinstated.
Porter mentioned a possible joint bid to be made with baseball, another sport cut after 2008.
After that, a presentation will be made to the IOC Executive Board in December, along with the the presentations of other bid sports, such as karate, roller sports, wake boarding and sport climbing.
The executive committee then will recommend one of the sports in May. The final decision will be left to an IOC vote in September 2013. Until then, Porter and his staff will continue their work.
“We just have to keep fighting and lobbying for our sport,” he said.
Contact Matt Mauney at firstname.lastname@example.org.