Monday, August 04, 2008

Softball, the Olympics, and nationalism

The Olympics, in case you have not heard, are coming. There are stories every day from every possible angle imaginable. And one of the big stories, that has been big for a while now, is that this is the last Olympics for softball.
The most common reason for the elimination of softball from the Olympic roster is that the sport does not have enough international depth. I have wondered for a while how much of a real reason this is versus what it might be covering. Since I don't have access to the inner workings of the IOC, I cannot really say for sure. But I am pretty sure there was not just one reason.
Anyway, I find this all interesting in light of this story about the American, Michael Bastian, who is coaching the Chinese team and the bridges he has burned in doing so. Apparently USA Softball is not too keen on coaches going overseas.
Wait, but wouldn't quality coaching--like the kind offered by USA Softball--exported to other countries help increase the depth of the sport? So players like Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza are running around trying to save softball and the organization they advocate on behalf of is in a pissing contest with those coaches who see opportunities overseas and take them.
This weirdness also flies in the face of most of the norms of sport. There is no loyalty anymore (I am not saying this in a judgy way--it's neither here nor there for the moment). Players go where the money is. Coaches go where the money is or where someone doesn't seem to care about their previous scandals (think Rick Neuheisel). But Bastian is somehow a traitor.
I know this is the Olympics and everyone's nationalism is about to reach a fever pitch, but look around. Countries import not only coaches but athletes. There will be a lot of Olympians representing countries that they were not born in, but became citizens of. And there is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment out there about such athletes--until or unless those athletes become medal winners. If they add to the medal count then they receive a temporary reprieve.
Look at the US Olympic team. Who is coaching the women's soccer team? Not an American. No one seems to be complaining about that. (Well I am sure they will if the team loses.) Do you really think Sweden is complaining about her loyalty? And there are over 30 what are being called foreign-born Olympians headed to (or already in) Beijing.
USA Softball better get over itself because if it doesn't it isn't going to have an international presence or influence.

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