SBD/September 4, 2013/Olympics

Three Sports Make Final Push For Inclusion In '20 Games As IOC Vote Looms

Wrestling is currently seen as the heavy favorite for Sunday's vote by the IOC
The IOC's vote this Sunday as to whether wrestling, squash or baseball-softball will be included in the '20 Olympic games will be the "culmination of a contest that began two years ago and has cost the finalists millions of dollars," according to David Segal of the N.Y. TIMES. But for the winner, the "prize is so big that it's hard to value." The winner will get the "global exposure of billions of television and online viewers and a place in the sports pantheon in which countries worldwide invest, simply because the sport is part of the Olympics." For squash, the "only sport among the finalists" that has never been included previously, this is the "third attempt to enter the Olympics." The squash narrative is "all about the game's global reach, its embrace of innovation and its easy integration into the Games." However, wrestling is seen as the "heavy favorite, which on its face might seem strange, given that the IOC executive board essentially booted the sport from the Games in February." After its ouster, wrestling "immediately started a major turnaround and charm offensive, overhauling its rules." Several Olympic experts say that "exile from the Games would effectively sound a death knell for the sport." All three sports federations have "spent the last few months in a lobbying frenzy," but "schmoozing every IOC member is a challenge." Baseball and softball "began trying to reclaim their Olympics spots almost as soon as they lost them, after Beijing in 2008." IOC members said that they were "dropped for a variety of reasons," including baseball's "doping problems and the dominance of a few countries." Also, MLB's "refusal to alter its season" is a "serious impediment because the Games want the highest standard of competition" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1).

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER? In a special to the L.A. TIMES, Jonathan Kolatch wrote the IOC decision "will have a major impact on what sports the next generation of children will play and on how the sports equipment industry is configured." The U.S. "spends billions each year trying to burnish our image abroad." If the IOC "chooses baseball and softball, two vintage American sports, we will get a boost for free." But the "weak link in baseball/softball's reinstatement bid is getting baseball's superstars to compete." IOC President Jacques Rogge has "made it clear that baseball will only be allowed back in the Olympics if the world's best in both disciplines are on the field." This would "probably require stretching" MLB's All-Star break. The MLBPA is "working with the newly minted World Baseball Softball Confederation, which has 130 member nations, to find a way." MLB, with its "solid fan, financial and media bases, doesn't need the Olympics, but it doesn't want to be seen as anti-Games." As for softball, "without the Olympics, it cannot flourish." It is "banking on its millions of players and the gender parity it provides to bring both sports back into the Olympics" (L.A. TIMES, 9/3).

ROGGE'S LEGACY: The AP's Stephen Wilson noted Rogge next Tuesday will step down as IOC President, and he is "leaving with the Olympic body in much sturdier shape but facing serious challenges." Rogge ends his term "with a reputation for bringing a calm, steady hand to the often turbulent world of Olympic politics." He "took a hard line against doping and ethics violations, created the Youth Olympics, oversaw growth in IOC finances during a time of global economic crisis and made peace with the U.S. Olympic Committee after years of bitter squabbling over revenues." Rogge said, "I hope that people, with time, will consider that I did a good job for the IOC." Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg said Rogge "was absolutely the right person at the right time," as the IOC "had a lot of turmoil." Heiberg added, "We had to get out of that. We had to get another image. He has brought stability." Wilson noted some critics called Rogge "dull and wooden, but he liked to describe himself as a 'sober' and level-headed leader in keeping with his medical background" (AP, 9/3). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Tripp Mickle writes choosing the host city for the '20 Summer Games "will contribute a great deal" to Rogge's legacy, either "cementing or distorting the perception that he led the organization’s global expansion." It also will determine whether the IOC is "concerned enough about the rising costs of hosting an Olympics to do something about it, or merely concerned enough to talk about the issue in the press." If the IOC selects Istanbul, which has a $19B infrastructure plan, the "spending binge would continue." If it selects Madrid, which plans to use 28 existing venues and spend $1.9B, or Tokyo, which plans to use 15 existing venues and spend $4.9B, the "spending would be curtailed for at least one Summer Games" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/2 issue).

HOST WITH THE MOST?
 BLOOMBERG NEWS' Grace Huang reported Tokyo is the "odds-on favorite to host the 2020 Olympic Games in the days before the winning city is announced." OddsChecker.com data shows Tokyo has 44% "of the bets placed," while Madrid is second with a 29% chance, followed by Istanbul with 24%. The speculation is "giving a boost to Japanese construction and real estate companies" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/3). 
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