It’s a good thing there are three strikes in softball before you’re out. After the sport was pushed to the sidelines for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games, it is among the newcomers—along with its sibling, baseball—for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
One month after the good news, softball event veterans are already working to ensure the sport they love will never be out of the Olympics for good.
“Our quest is to show the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 planners that they made a great decision to put softball back in the Olympics,” says Ron Radigonda, executive director of the softball division of the World Baseball Softball Confederation
There are plenty of reasons to suggest Radigonda and his peers will do just that. For one, few outside of the IOC members who voted softball out of the Olympics during a 2005 meeting understand the logic behind the move. Attendance was strong and the competition level was solid in past Summer Games, notes Radigonda.
“It’s always been a mystery to us,” Radigonda says of the vote in Singapore, in which baseball also struck out. Interestingly, softball was closer to remaining an Olympic sport at the time.
Both stick-and-ball sports will return together. How that came to pass is a good lesson for all aspiring Olympic sports. The leading officials of baseball and softball listened to IOC recommendations.
In the sports’ case, that meant unifying the bid under one umbrella: WBSC. Six months after the organization’s formation in 2013, Radigonda was officially on board after serving as executive director of USA Softball for 15 years. Previously, he was executive director of the Sacramento (California) Sports Commission and Sacramento Sports Foundation.
Radigonda says he enjoys watching youth play softball and baseball just as much as catching a professional game featuring his beloved San Francisco Giants. But he knows the best way to ensure the stick-and-ball sports remain attractive to youngsters is to have them played on the world’s biggest stage.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle,” he says, particularly of softball. “Having that go away and the dreams of millions of young ladies squashed was difficult to deal with.”
Radigonda credits an IOC decision to lift the cap of 28 sports per Olympics for paving the way for the return of softball and baseball. Twenty-five sports remain core competitions that don’t face review, but softball and baseball will have to prove their worth.
Fortunately, both are wildly popular in Japan. Case in point: More than 31,000 fans attended a friendly exhibition in June between the United States and Japan at the Tokyo Dome. The timing certainly demonstrated potential for great success in four years.
“Hopefully 2020 is the start of a strong run,” Radigonda says.
Among Radigonda’s takeaways:
> The next Jennie Finch, aka an American softball icon, is probably still too young to be recognized. In two years during tryouts, we may have a better idea.
> Merging baseball and softball into one federation worked for an Olympic bid, but it’s not a universal model. Radigonda sees no reason for USA Softball and USA Baseball to form one entity. However, he notes the model works in some countries like the Netherlands.
> Canada, New Zealand and Australia join the U.S. and Japan as the top five countries in terms of popularity for the stick-and-ball sports.