How Softball Landed in the '96 Games

FOR softball to gain approval as an Olympic sport took 23 years of effort by Don Porter, president of the Amateur Softball Association, based in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The first underhanded pitch won't be made until the centennial 1996 Games in Atlanta, and then for women only.

"We would have liked to have the men's game in also," Mr. Porter says, "but because of the International Olympic Committee's [IOC] concerns about the largeness of the [overall] sports program, we would have been pushing it too much for both." Besides, the IOC wants to bring more women into the Games.

When Porter began his lobbying efforts, Avery Brundage, a man who insisted on pure amateurism in the Olympics, was the president of the IOC. By the time softball was welcomed into the fold, current Olympic chieftan Juan Antonio Samaranch had radically altered the direction of the Games, which now unabashedly accept professionals and pursue mulitimillion-dollar sponsorship deals of their own.

"On many occasions, president Samaranch told me that I had to be patient," Porter says. He was that - and persistent, too.

"A judo official told me many years ago that he basically harassed the IOC until they got so tired of seeing and hearing him that they put judo on the program," he says. "I wouldn't want it to be that way and I don't think it was. But you've got to be there and get support - let people know what your sport is all about."

To even be considered for the Games, a sport must be played and formally organized in a minimum number of countries and continents. Porter says softball consistently met such requirements, even though they have been increased three times in the last 20 years.

Porter says softball spent about $15,000 a year lobbying the IOC, considerably less than some other sports. His longevity in office, however, offered valuable continuity: "Over the years I had the opportunity to get to know almost every IOC member," he says.

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