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Friday, November 29
Updated: November 30, 4:53 PM ET
 
Baseball, softball, modern pentathlon win a reprieve

Associated Press

MEXICO CITY -- Baseball, softball and modern pentathlon are staying in the Olympics, for now at least.

Three months after an Olympic panel proposed dropping the three sports for the 2008 Beijing Games, the IOC decided Friday to put off any vote until after the 2004 Athens Games.

The decision sharply reduces the chances the sports will be dropped from Beijing's schedule, because of the short amount of notice. Also, the vote probably rules out the chances of golf or rugby being added for Beijing, as had been proposed.

The two-year postponement was a defeat for International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who had commissioned the proposed changes and pushed for a vote this week.

''I don't think I misjudged anything,'' Rogge insisted.

He said the sports could still be dropped for Beijing.

''It all will depend on how the three federations perform in Athens,'' Rogge said. ''The decision could affect 2008 or 2012. No date is fixed.''

However, IOC members said they fully expect the sports to stay through 2008 at least. The first scheduled IOC session after Athens is in 2005, when members will be selecting the 2012 host city.

''They're in for 2008,'' Canadian member Paul Henderson said. ''Nobody's going to kick out a sport in 2005. These guys are in until 2012, there's no question about it.''

The sports expressed mixed feelings over the postponement, suggesting they had been left in limbo.

''It doesn't make our life easier,'' modern pentathlon chief Klaus Schormann said, citing uncertainty among his sport's sponsors. ''But the clouds are not dark as at the beginning. They are light, feathery clouds.''

Softball federation president Don Porter said he had hoped for a more definitive decision.

''What I'm satisfied with is the amount of support we got from the IOC members,'' he said. ''I'm disappointed that they didn't come to a vote. I think we would probably have prevailed. This kind of keeps us under a shadow.''

After 10-minute presentations to the assembly by leaders of the three endangered sports, dozens of rank-and-file IOC members took the floor to question the whole process and push for a postponement.

Of the 39 speakers, not a single one spoke in favor of the proposals to cut the sports.

''It is urgent to wait,'' Senegalese member Youssoupha Ndiaye said in a statement that summed up much of the 2½-hour debate.

Rogge then conferred with his executive board and submitted a proposal to put off any deletion of sports until after Athens.

Of the 117 attending members, only two raised their hands against the postponement, while four abstained. On a separate motion, the members approved the ''general principles'' of the IOC's review of the sports program.

The last sport dropped from the Summer Olympics was polo in 1936, and IOC members made clear they had no desire for radical change now.

The IOC program commission recommended in August that the three sports be cut from the Beijing Olympics. The report cited lack of global popularity, high venue costs and, in the case of baseball, the absence of top major league players.

But the sports waged a successful lobbying campaign, and many IOC members said they had not been given sufficient input or time to make a decision.

Senior Canadian member Dick Pound said Rogge and his executive board must have realized they had little support because they never endorsed the proposals.

''I think a lot of it was to keep the program commission from going under and going down in flames,'' he said. ''But I don't approach this as a triumph or failure on the part of Jacques. If the program commission did nothing else it sure got everybody's attention.''

Baseball has been a medal sport since 1992. Softball, a women-only event, was added in 1996. Modern pentathlon, a five-sport discipline created by modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin, was introduced in 1912.

Softball brought out Croatian player Jelena Tomic, who noted that the Olympic Charter stresses the need for increased participation of women in the games.

''To take away the dream from so many girls is like banning women from all sports in the Olympics,'' she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Baseball federation chief Aldo Notari of Italy noted that he had proposed reducing the Olympic tournament from 11 days to five days, a move which would improve the chances of major-leaguers taking part.

''The fact that the best athletes are not included in the games -- this definitely will be solved by Beijing,'' he insisted.

Removing his sport from the Olympics would be ''the end of baseball as a world sport,'' Notari said.

Israeli member Alex Gilady criticized Major League Baseball for failing to release top players for the Olympics.

''Major League Baseball so far is part of the problem and not part of the solution,'' he said. ''If the Olympics is so important to them, they can show us.''

Schormann, the head of the modern pentathlon federation, said being dropped from the Olympics would kill his sport altogether.

''Don't send us to the Olympic museum,'' he said.




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