Golf, Rugby Win Shot at 2016 Olympics

Aug. 13, 2009, 2:49 p.m. (ET)

The IOC Executive Board recommends that golf and rugby should be a part of the Olympics in 2016.

The two sports were the choice from seven presented to the EB at a meeting in Berlin. Golf was last an Olympic sport in 1904 while rugby, in its 15-man version instead of the proposed rugby sevens, was last played at the 1924 Olympics. Baseball, karate, roller sports, softball and squash were the other candidates.

Golf and rugby will make presentations to the full IOC Session in Copenhagen and will be voted on separately on Oct. 9. They will go in alphabetical order, and the results of the first vote will not be announced "to avoid the influence of one vote on the second vote," said IOC President Jacques Rogge

There will be about 107 voting members.

In rugby, there probably will be 12 men's teams and 12 women's teams, with 12 athletes on each team, although the format of the tournament will be decided if rugby is added to the program. Golf will have 60 men and 60 women playing a 72-hole tournament.

Rogge, who elected not to take part in the vote, said all seven sports made a strong case for inclusion. "The EB carefully evaluated them in a transparent and fair process," he said. "In the end, the decision came down to which two would add the most value. Golf and rugby will be a great addition to the Games."

Eight votes were necessary for selection. In the first round, roller sports and squash received no votes among the 14 voting Executive Board members, while rugby received seven votes. Rugby garnered nine votes in the second round to advance.

In electing the second sport, golf steadily gained support - with vote totals of 3, 6, 7 and 9 -- to qualify in the fourth round.

Rogge said he thought the EB members who voted for rugby and golf were "reassured by the following figures: softball had the participation of 120 women, women’s rugby has 144 women participating and golf has 60 women participating, so we have a total of 204 women that would eventually participate in 2016."

Rugby proposes 12 teams for men and 12 for women.

"Obviously we're delighted to be recommended, but we're mindful that the ultimate decision will be taken by the IOC members in October," said IRB secretary general Mike Miller. "We were given the opportunity to present to the Executive Board, along with the other sports. It was long process and we thought it was a very good process."

He said the arguments for adding rugby sevens included "the youthful, competitive, dynamic aspects of the game, the fact that it is already a proven success in multi-sport events around the world, such as the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, and will be in the Pan-American Games, and back in the All-Africa Games, it's youthful appeal, its appeal to broadcasters and sponsors and the fact that it's a huge commercial success in the IRB World Series each year."

He said the IRB Sevens World Cup in Dubai this year brought in revenues of $20 million."

IRB President Bernard Lapasset, also welcomed the decision.

"It's a really important day for us because it's a recognition of the work we have done and at the same time recognition that rugby is a global sport," Lapasset told ATR.

"We will add value in terms of the sport event, the quality of the athletes and the quality of the game. We would extend the concept of the Olympic Games around the world to new countries like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa to compete for gold medals."

Lapasset said rugby would work hard in the next eight weeks to maintain the momentum of its 2016 campaign, promoting rugby around the world and lobbying IOC members to convince them it is a good fit for the Games.

Peter Dawson, golf's bid leader and chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, described it as a "historic moment" for his sport.

"Golf was in the Games in 1904 and we are absolutely delighted to have the prospect of being back in," he said. "Of course we are not counting any chickens because we have the Copenhagen vote to go through but obviously the recommendation is a major step.

Asked if he was certain golf's top players would take part in the 2016 Olympics, Dawson said, "In seven years time who knows who the top players will be. We have no specific control on our athletes any more than any other federations.

"All I can say is that the top players today are coming out in overwhelming support both the men's and the women's game and if the Olympics were held next week I am sure we will have the world's top players there. In seven years time we will continue to make sure that that happens."

But golf's star ambassadors including Tiger Woods are unlikely to make appearances in Copenhagen in the final hours of the sport's bid. Dawson said the IOC Session vote on the two sports for 2016 Oct. 9 clashed with the President's Cup in San Francisco, so there would be a limited presence of players in the Danish capital.

He added that golf had a lot to offer the Olympic Movement. "The 'grow the game' opportunity that we have through Olympic inclusion is massive in countries in Asia and perhaps Eastern Europe in particular."

The decision was grim for the five sports that were eliminated. Squash and karate were the two sports that went before the IOC four years ago in Singapore, but neither won enough votes.

World Karate Federation President Antonio Espinos tells Around the Rings the decision is a blow to sports seeking a place in the Olympics one day.

"I feel that it is a very negative message for those on the outside. I don't see when on the horizon we might have this possibility," he says, noting that in 2013, the next time the IOC reviews the summer program, there will be room for only one sport to be added. In 2013 the IOC will adopt a core of 25 sports to be played in the 2020 Olympics, plus golf and rugby, which are in for at least two Games. The summer program has room for 28 sports.

"I don't know how much more we can do, in terms of development of our sport, to convince the IOC," Espinos said.

Karate remained in contention until the last round of the IOC EB vote, when golf claimed a nine-vote majority, with karate winning three votes and softball two.

"It's not the end," said Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation. "We want to continue our efforts, keep our sport out there and hopefully bring back the Olympic dream to a great many of those young athletes who felt that their dreams had been taken away."

Softball would have added 120 female athletes.

"We're all certainly very disappointed in the decision," Porter said, "but we have to take that as a part of what it's all about in sport. We're going to move on and continue our efforts to work towards further developing our sport."

Some observers felt that if the IOC reinstated softball, it would be admitting that it made a mistake in 2005 when the sport was dropped from the 2012 program. Porter noted that the vote was tied in Singapore, and one additional vote would have kept the sport in the Games.

"Whether or not it was a mistake, I think we said we need to work harder," he said. "We have to work a lot harder to gain the confidence of the IOC and bring about the recognition that we want so badly and that's to have our athletes play in the Olympic Movement."

He said he wasn't sure if softball would reapply in 2013. In the immediate future, softball representatives would attend the IOC Session to see how the members feel about the recommendation.

However, Rogge said that the IOC cannot vote on the other five.

Golf proposes a tournament for 2016 with 60 men and 60 women. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)

"That is extremely, extremely clear under the Olympic Charter," he said.

IBAF president Harvey Schiller told Around the Rings, "As Tom Hanks said in the movie 'A League of Our Own,' there's no crying in baseball."

"Obviously we're disappointed, but baseball is all about tomorrow, not today," he said. "We see ourselves as still one of the major sports in the world. The World Baseball Classic continues to grow and we see that as one of the largest sporting events in the world as it moves forward."

Schiller said he was also disappointed for the 2016 bid cities "because baseball would have been a great partner, certainly for Chicago or Tokyo if they are selected, but just as well for Rio because of the Latin influence and how strong baseball is through the Americas, and because baseball was first played as a medal sport in Spain in Barcelona."

He said he could not pinpoint why the EB decided not to reinstate baseball, which was voted out along with softball at the 2005 Session. However, he said that a joint baseball/softball bid would have been "a favorite."

"Time will tell, we'll hear some feedback," he said. Of course, President Rogge said as part of his platform when he first was elected that he wanted to work on the size of the Games, so obviously team sports would be put at a disadvantage of that, and that's unfortunate because we had promoted a great partnership with the Olympic Movement to grow together."

Schiller was not sure what baseball would do next. "No one really knows the procedures to be followed in going forward," he said. "The question is, Should sports expend their resources in trying to convince the Session to do something different in October? I think it's clear that this is the decision of the IOC."

He said his successor as president of the IBAF in December would decide if baseball should try again in 2013. "My expectation would be that baseball would not do it because they've done every single thing that's been asked of them in trying to have the best players, media support, doping control. Nothing's going to change between now and four years from now."

N Ramachandran, president of the World Squash Federation, said he was hugely disappointed. "Although we will not see our dream of being part of the Olympic Games from 2016, we will continue to improve the sport wherever possible, and will not give up on the belief that squash is deserving of and ready for Olympic status," he said in a statement.

George Mieras, bid leader for the WSF, told ATR he was "bitterly disappointed because we have put a huge amount of work into this but we respect the decision and wish the two sports well."

"Our top athletes will be devastated," he said.

Mieras said the commercial benefits of golf and rugby for the Olympics had aided their proposals to the IOC. But he hinted that squash would likely try again.

"I am quite sure future generations of squash administrators will want to continue because we genuinely believe we fulfill all the Olympic criteria."

Baseball never got more than two votes.

Leaders of the International Roller Sports Federation were not in Berlin for the IOC announcement and could not be reached by phone for comment. Oddly, while federation officials opted to stay away for the decision, a delegation it set to arrive in the city for the start of the IAAF world championships.

Roberto Marotta, secretary general of FIRS, told ATR earlier this week that he still had high hopes roller sports would be admitted to the Olympic program.

"If they [IOC Executive Board] want to show to the world that they want to select a sport for young people I don't think they will select golf," he said. "Golf is a rich sport but doesn't give a new image for young people in the Olympic Movement."

Reported and Written from Berlin by Ed Hula, Karen Rosen, Mark Bisson.

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