Friday, February 24, 2006

Lost in the shuffle of Torino: softball.

The IOC has eliminated softball in 2012. You probably didn't hear about it because they announced it during these Winter Games; the story garnered one line on our ticker. The reasoning behind the move seems to be that the Americans have dominated the sport, and there is no competition.

I'll agree that the timing of the announcement to axe softball was carefully placed, so as to avoid media coverage.

But the argument for axing softball because the Americans keep winning is a fair one. Take women's hockey. Many people are saying that women's hockey shouldn't have been at the Olympics until 2010. Why? For the same reasons they're axing softball: a lack of competitive balance.

Watch women's hockey. I mean, really watch it. It is, for lack of a better word, brutal. The US-Sweden semifinals game was easily the worst display of hockey I have ever seen. More than half of the attempted passes never made it to their intended targets. It's not from a lack of effort, it's from a lack of ability. The Americans lost for two reasons: they played maybe the worst game they've played all year, and they ran into a hot goaltender. They have a lot in common with the Canadian men's team, now that I think about it.

Al Strachan at the Sun thinks a team of 15 year old boys could beat the Canadian women's Olympic team. I disagree with that particular matchup, as Canada's team is clearly the class of the sport. As for the other national teams (save the United States), those 15 year olds would beat their brains out. These nations need the time to develop their programs and field competitive squads. I don't pretend to be an expert on women's softball, but if the American dominance is as pronounced as people say, then I must infer the situation for other nations is similar.

And keep in mind that it took decades for the rest of the world to catch up in men's hockey. Canada, the United States, and Russia won every gold medal save one from 1924 to 1994.

The fact is that the rest of the world has simply not caught up to the Canadians and Americans in women's hockey. Women's hockey and softball will get better, no question about it; but putting a sport where only two teams are competitive into the Olympics is simply unreasonable.

And that's why softball is getting thrown out at the plate.

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