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IOC: MLB players needed for 2016 bid

IOC: MLB players needed for 2016 bid

BEIJING -- In an exclusive interview with MLB.com, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said during Saturday's United States-Japan bronze medal game there is "no hierarchy" among the seven contending sports to be added to the 2016 Summer Olympics and said marquee Major League Baseball talent must be sent if his group is to approve the return of baseball as one of those.

Rogge showed up right after Matt Brown's three-run homer for the U.S. in the bottom of the third inning, and he sat behind home plate next to Harvey Schiller, the president of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and former U.S. Olympic Committee chief. It is the last day of baseball in the Olympics for at least eight years because, along with softball, it was removed from the 2012 Games in London by virtue of an IOC decision much earlier this decade.

"To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible," Rogge said. "You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met.
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"When you have all that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you still must win hearts."

Those "hearts" must be won over when the IOC meets in October 2009. The IBAF and Major League Baseball are among those lobbying in full force during the Games and will be all the way up until that decision is made. In addition to baseball and softball, the committee will be choosing among squash, karate, golf, roller sports and rugby. Baseball and softball are mutually exclusive, not a package deal.

Major League Baseball once again did not permit its players to be on the U.S. team, which was eliminated from gold-medal contention on Friday night by Cuba. The U.S. roster is comprised of 23 Minor Leaguers plus San Diego State junior pitcher and top 2009 Draft candidate Stephen Strasburg. Rogge said that must change.

"Yeah, it's a big factor," he said. "We have [Roger] Federer, [Roger] Nadal in tennis, LeBron James in basketball. We have the best cyclists. Ronaldinho is here in football. We want these guys at the Games. We're not saying it should be an entire Major League team, but we want the top athletes here at the Olympics."

Will baseball be back in 2016?

"We will consider the possibility for baseball to come back as softball also is considered next year in October," he said. "Baseball and softball will have to compete with five other sports. There is no hierarchy. That's something that will be decided by our committee after reviewing all of the factors."

Rogge was asked by MLB.com why he was here in the first place, considering that his group removed baseball from the future games.

"I'm here because I want to pay thanks to our eight teams that participated," he said. "I am pleased to go to at least one event of all the Olympic sports. I can't go to all the finals, obviously, so I go to the qualifying games in some. I was [at baseball] in Athens, too. And I was also at Sydney."

MLB President Bob DuPuy said at last week's Owners' Meetings that MLB is completely behind the movement to return baseball to the program for 2016, and indeed various people from MLB (and Gene Orza of the Players Association) have been at Wukesong Sports Complex and working with Schiller behind the scenes to work toward that end. Schiller said this week that MLB players will be part of the proposal in some capacity, mentioning one scenario whereby Major Leaguers could participate in the medal round and Minor Leaguers in the preliminaries.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of MLB, told MLB.com during Friday night's game against Cuba that it is way to early to speculate on how Major Leaguers might be used.

"There is no proposal right now that I know of," Solomon said. "We're going to do all we can to support Dr. Schiller. Of course, we are very supportive of the Olympic movement, and we are interested in helping Dr. Schiller in every way possible. But specifics right now are not appropriate.

"We're going to do our best. We think baseball deserves to be on the Olympic stage. We'll do absolutely our very best, but how we go about that remains to be seen."

Rogge was told that at least from a U.S. perspective, there seems to be a great deal of optimism that baseball will be back.

"If you weren't optimistic," he said, "there would not be a chance."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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