The 31st annual NCAA Women’s College World Series of softball is underway this week in Oklahoma City, OK. While the NCAA has been administering college sports since 1910, it was only in 1982 when the first women’s softball championship was held. First created as an offshoot of baseball for men, today, softball is thought of as mostly a women’s game, although still played by both sexes.
Softball made its first appearance at the Olympics in 1996. From that time onward, U.S. women dominated the softball world stage by winning three Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004) and Olympic silver (2008). Following the 2008 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suddenly decided to remove women’s softball from the 2012 and 2016 Games, citing that the sport was “too American”.
In addition to women’s softball, the IOC also ousted men’s baseball, due to the lack of support from the Major League Baseball organization. But just this past week, together in a joint bid, efforts were made to get both sports reinstated into the 2020 Games. Having made the short list of sports that are being reconsidered, a final decision will be handed down in September.
The biggest losers in this battle are the young women and girls that strive to be the best in their sport. Without an Olympic team, the top players battling it out for the NCAA title have lost a significant opportunity to continue to compete any further than in Oklahoma City.
“It’s devastating,” said Lisa Fernandez, a former pitcher for the United States team. “We’re not like basketball or other sports that have other professional opportunities. We thrive on our place in the Olympics.”
First played by women in 1895, women’s softball began to grow in popularity in 1904 after the Spalding company included a women’s section in its baseball guide, in an effort to expand the sport’s demographic and sell more gear. Today, with the help of Title IX, girls have been given more opportunities to play than ever before, with over a quarter of a million girls taking their place on the field every year.
As the game continues to increase in popularity and recognition, the need for the Olympic team to be reinstated grows along with it because every young person should have the opportunity to participate at the highest level.
This week, as the talented and passionate young women battle it out on the field in Oklahoma City for the championship title, we will be cheering from the sidelines for the reinstatement of the sport in the 2020 Olympic Games, hoping the dream for these young women and girls to represent their country in the sport that they love is once again a reality!