sport tak­ing hit af­ter loss of olympic sta­tus

Lack of fund­ing means play­ers must rely on love of game

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING -

OK­LA­HOMA CITY — With the world cham­pi­onships ap­proach­ing, Jay Miller gath­ered his U.S. na­tional softball team for two days of prac­tice and then headed off to an­other con­ti­nent to play.

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 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, in­clud­ing for­mer Texas Longhorns star Cat Oster­man, 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 warm-up 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, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Am­a­teur Softball As­so­ci­a­tion that runs USA Softball, said he’s 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 be­fore the world cham­pi­onships in White­horse, Yukon Ter­ri­tory.

In the mean­time, softball play­ers are left to de­cide whether softball is a sac­ri­fice they can make. Some are able to make a liv­ing play­ing in pro­fes­sional leagues in the U.S., in­clud­ing the four-team Na­tional Pro Fastpitch and the tour­ing Pro Fastpitch Xtreme, and in Ja­pan. That’s not the case with Team USA.

“It’s not about the money,” said Megan Lan­gen­feld, who won the NCAA ti­tle with UCLA last month. “Be­ing a fe­male ath­lete, that’s part of it. You could al­most go across ev­ery sport. The women don’t get paid as much as men do. So, it’s def­i­nitely about the sport and your love for the game.”

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