It took nearly three decades for the International Olympic Committee to recognize Softball as a medal event, but it may take just three months for the sport to lose that status. A report released on Aug. 28 by the IOC's program commission recommended the exclusion of softball, as well as baseball, modern pentathlon and several individual disciplines, from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The next day the committee's executive board postponed any action until it meets again in November, leaving the threatened sports to twist in the wind. "It makes me angry," says Lisa Fernandez, the star pitcher who helped the U.S. win Softball's first two gold medals, in 1996 and 2000. "We've worked so hard to become an Olympic sport."
The report singled out softball and baseball for not being popular enough outside of Asia and the Americas, but some feel there may be more to it than that. While the IOC is a global organization, almost half of its 127 members—and seven of the eight men who have served as president, including current chief Jacques Rogge—come from Europe, where neither game has caught on. If the executive board endorses the recommendations, the decision would become final with a simple majority vote of IOC members in November in Mexico City. (The board will also discuss adding sports, including golf and seven-man rugby.) "I don't want to say that Europe runs everything, but the fact is that they do," says Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation. "I'm not sure what figures they used in their research."
While an Olympic banishment wouldn't be fatal to softball in the United States, it would be a serious blow to the game's worldwide growth. The sport is currently played in 124 countries. "We've had so many countries grow and improve," says Fernandez, "and the Olympics are a big part of that."