sport taking hit after loss of olympic status
Lack of funding means players must rely on love of game
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.”