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USA softball faces precarious future
Gone are the days of a long, national tour to prepare for the competition. With the sport being dropped from the Olympics for at least the rest of the decade, there’s a new, sobering reality for USA Softball.
Losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the U.S. Olympic Committee means a limited travel schedule, less time to practice and no stipends that would allow players to give up everyday jobs.
“The biggest thing it hits is funding for the players,” said Mr. Miller, in his second year as the U.S. head coach. “In the past, our Olympic years especially, kids could make a pretty good living playing for the national team, where now they can’t.”
The Americans arrived in Oklahoma City this week for the fifth annual World Cup of Softball, and the first since the IOC finalized its decision to keep softball off the program for the 2016 Olympics. It also won’t be played in London in 2012.
Only three countries will be represented at this year’s World Cup, the fewest yet, as other nations wouldn’t pay for their teams to make the trip.
Instead of the tournament being played as a warmup for the world championships — now the sport’s premier event — the World Cup is taking place three weeks afterward. A major tournament in Canada also was canceled, although the U.S. went ahead with a four-game exhibition series against the Canadians.
Ron Radigonda, the executive director of the Amateur Softball Association that runs USA Softball, said he’s already trying to coordinate next year’s schedule for the Canada Cup and World Cup so teams from other continents can play both tournaments during a single trip to North America. For 2012, he hopes the World Cup and Canada Cup can be played just before the world championships in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Those kind of decisions are more critical now that money is tight.
The softball team used to receive big payouts from the USOC each year, in part because it was a regular favorite to win gold.
“We’re at zero,” Mr. Radigonda said. “We basically were not granted any funding from the USOC, so we went to zero. In non-Olympic years, we were at mid-six figures and in Olympic years we were much greater than that.”
As a result, Mr. Radigonda said the plan now is for the U.S. team to condense its activities into a span of about two months each summer, between June and early August. In 2008, the team went on a 42-city tour starting in February and players were essentially wrapped up in team activities through the Olympics in August.
There’s no way the association can afford to pay players for that long now.
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