Golf, rugby backed by IOC board for 2016 Games
By STEPHEN WILSON (AP)
BERLIN — Golf and rugby took a big step toward joining 2016 Summer Olympics, making the cut after the IOC rejected bids from baseball, softball and three other sports.
The International Olympic Committee executive board Thursday also denied squash, karate and roller sports.
The board will submit golf and rugby sevens — a faster-paced version of the standard 15-a-side game — for ratification by the full 106-member IOC assembly in Copenhagen in October.
"In the end, the decision came down to which two would add the most value," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "Golf and rugby will be a great addition to the games. ... They have global appeal, a geographically diverse lineup of top iconic athletes and an ethic that stresses fair play."
Final approval will require a simple majority vote by the full IOC. Rogge said the sports will be put to individual votes, not as a tandem.
The board also approved the inclusion of women's boxing in the 2012 London Olympics. Boxing had been the only summer Olympic sport without female competitors.
The golf decision opens the possibility of Tiger Woods playing for an Olympic gold medal in 2016. Rogge said he is "absolutely" sure that Woods and other top players will compete if the sport gets final approval.
"Who is one of the major icons of the world? Tiger Woods," Rogge told The Associated Press. "This is a very important sport."
The 15-member board selected the proposed sports for 2016 by secret ballot over several rounds, with the sport receiving the fewest votes eliminated each time. Rogge, who chairs the board, did not vote.
Rugby was the clear winner overall, getting seven votes in the first round and a majority of nine in the second. In a separate ensuing vote, golf needed four rounds to get through. Karate led the first round with five votes, with golf getting three. Golf then got six votes in the second, seven in the third and nine in the fourth.
Golf was played at the 1900 Paris Olympics and 1904 St. Louis Games. The sport's backers say bringing golf back into the Olympics would help it develop worldwide, noting many governments fund only Olympic sports.
"It's a historic moment for golf," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient club and co-leader of golf's Olympic bid. "We're absolutely delighted to have the prospect of being back in. We're not counting any chickens because we have the Copenhagen vote to go through, but obviously the recommendation is a major step."
Golf proposes a 72-hole stroke-play competition for men and women, with 60 players in each field. The world's top 15 players would qualify automatically, and all major professional tours would alter tournament schedules to avoid a clash with the Olympics and let the big names play.
Rugby was played in four Olympics between 1900 and 1924 in the full 15-a-side format, but now proposes the 7-a-side version. The tournament would be played over four days with 12 teams each for men and women.
"They bring the spectacular side of sport, with a lot of scoring, reversals and turnovers," said Rogge, who played rugby on a national level for Belgium. "You have a lot of countries that can win medals. It's very universal."
International Rugby Board president Bernard Lapasset was ebullient but cautious.
"We recognize the significance of this milestone in our campaign but are also mindful that the ultimate decision rests with the IOC members when they meet in Copenhagen. The Olympic Games would be the pinnacle of the sport for all our athletes," he said.
Softball and baseball had been seeking a return after being voted off the program four years ago for the 2012 London Games. Attempted reinstatements were rejected by the IOC in 2006. In Thursday's ballot, neither received more than two votes in any round.
"Obviously, I guess we didn't do a good enough job," International Softball Federation president Don Porter said. "We have to think that over and see what's going to be important to try to get all our young athletes all over the world that Olympic dream. I guess that hurts all of us more than anything else, the sense that we let them down."
"We can't throw in the towel, even though it's the seventh inning," Porter said. "Hopefully we'll come to bat in the bottom of the seventh."
International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller said he saw no point of mounting another Olympic bid for his sport.
"That's not for me to decide ... but what are you going to say differently?" he said. "This wasn't about using the Olympics to grow the game of baseball. This was about having the opportunity for people to play on this big stage."
Rogge said softball and baseball should not give up hope.
"There is life outside the Olympic Games; many sports have proven that," he said. "Secondly, never say never."
Rogge was asked how the IOC could reject softball at a time when it is pushing for gender equality. He said golf and rugby will bring in a total of 204 women athletes, compared with 120 from softball.
"This is an upside of 84," he said.
For London 2012, three women's weight classes — a total of 36 athletes in flyweight, lightweight and middleweight — will be added to the boxing competition. To make room for the women, one of the existing 11 men's weight divisions — light flyweight — will be dropped.
Overall, the number of boxers will remain unchanged at 286.
"I can only rejoice about the inclusion of women's boxing," Rogge said. "Women's boxing has progressed a tremendous amount in the last five years and it was time that it be included in the games."
In other changes for 2012, the IOC approved new 200-meter sprint events in canoe-kayak, a combined run-shoot format for modern pentathlon and the elimination of nonmedal consolation matches in handball. The IOC told wrestling, swimming and cycling they will have to drop events and keep the same number of athletes if they want to add new events. A decision on mixed doubles in tennis was put off pending more information from the International Tennis Federation.