If there's one thing you can count on in an Olympic cycle, it's the grousing about what sports are included and what sports aren't. This time around, the popular complaint is the fact that baseball and softball are out, and in the 2016 Summer Games, golf and rugby will be in.
Americans unhappy about that change will cite statistics about the popularity of baseball and softball, and insist that rugby and golf (which haven't been included in the Games since 1924 and 1904 respectively) shouldn't be included no matter what happens with America's Pastime. What it all boils down to is the fact that they're offended that two sports they've heard of and understand and probably played at least once have been replaced by two sports they consider - well, if not arcane, then much less popular.
It's true that baseball and softball are enjoyed by a lot of people. But the problem is that those sports (both founded in the U.S.) are mainly popular in the Americas, Canada and Asia. It's countries in those regions that are putting money into the development of athletes and facilities for those sports. Yes, anyone anywhere in the world can take them up, but before you go that route, here's a question for you. Can you take up rugby where you are?
Of course you can. Will you? Eh, probably not, unless you already have experience with it.
Bulletin: Just because you don't play it doesn't mean the rest of the world doesn't. Just because you don't care about it doesn't mean it doesn't have avid followers in other places. In the case of rugby, it has a more widespread following than either softball or baseball.
Whenever I hear people grousing that nobody watches [pick a sport, any sport: shooting, archery, equestrian events, whatever], I am reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit that took place every year before the Oscars. Bill Murray would announce his picks for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, and then erase the rest of the nominees, saying "Best Supporting Actor and Actress? Who cares?"
The Olympics are about the world and the wide range of sports played. They're not about showing the world how dominant the U.S. can be at sports that, for all intents and purposes, it owns.
Baseball became a medal sport in 1992, softball in 1996. While the U.S. baseball team had uneven results in the Olympics (no medals in 1992, bronze in 1996 and 2008, gold in 2000, and not qualifying in 2004), U.S. softball won three straight gold medals and one silver. Essentially, it became a showcase for just one country. And that, honestly, isn't what the Olympics should be about.
So, the IOC eliminated them. What went in? Sports viewed as having a stronger worldwide player base.
It's anticipated that softball will lobby to be included again as an Olympic sport. Of course, several others also are jockeying for a place - the international squash and karate federations have made it known that they will be back at the bargaining table, and they certainly aren't alone.
Do I love baseball and softball? Yes, I do. They're great sports with a strong following, and they do an absolutely fantastic job of getting kids involved in athletic activity early on. They're all over the U.S. But if another sport can demonstrate better worldwide development and representation, it might be more deserving of a spot in the Olympics.