Golf makes cut, rugby in scrum for addition to 2016 Olympic Games

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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BERLIN - Imagine the scene: Tiger Woods lining up a 20-foot putt on the final hole with an Olympic gold medal at stake.
That scenario came closer to reality Thursday when golf was recommended for inclusion in the 2016 Summer Games, along with the fast-paced game of rugby sevens.
As for baseball and softball, it was a case of "Strike three and you're out!" Seeking to return to the Olympics after being voted out four years ago and denied reinstatement a year later, they were among the five sports failing to make the cut this time.
The International Olympic Committee executive board selected golf and rugby from a list of seven proposed sports, which also included squash, karate and roller sports.
The board also approved women's boxing for the 2012 London Games, bringing gender parity to the only summer Olympic sport that had been for men only.
Golf and rugby will be put forward for ratification by the full 106-member IOC assembly in Copenhagen in October. Final approval will require a simple majority. The sports will be put to individual votes, not as a tandem.
"In the end, the decision came down to which two would add the most value," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "Golf and rugby will be a great addition to the Games. ...
"They have global appeal, a geographically diverse lineup of top iconic athletes and an ethic that stresses fair play."
Few, if any athletes, have more global appeal than Woods, who indicated this week he would play in the Olympics if the sport got the nod from the IOC.
"Who is one of the major icons of the world? Tiger Woods," Rogge told The Associated Press. "This is a very important sport."
Rogge said he feels "absolutely" certain the top golfers would compete, just as other star professionals have done.
"We have seen that in tennis, in ice hockey and basketball," he said. "It's not because they are professionals that they are not interested in coming to the Games. Look at Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Magic Johnson or Wayne Gretzky."
Golf could also be a good fit for Chicago, which is vying with Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo for the 2016 Olympics. That decision will be made by the IOC in Copenhagen on Oct. 2, a week before the vote on the two sports. The Chicago area has three courses which have hosted majors - Olympia Fields, Medinah Country Club and Kemper Lakes.
Golf was played at the 1900 Paris Olympics and 1904 St. Louis Games, where Canadian George Lyon won the gold medal. The sport's backers say bringing golf back into the Olympics would help it develop worldwide, noting many governments fund only Olympic sports.
"It's a historic moment for golf," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient club and co-leader of golf's Olympic bid. "We're absolutely delighted to have the prospect of being back in. We're not counting any chickens because we have the Copenhagen vote to go through, but obviously the recommendation is a major step."
Golf proposes a 72-hole stroke-play competition for men and women, with 60 players in each field. The world's top 15 players would qualify automatically, and all major professional tours would alter tournament schedules to avoid clashing with the Olympics.
Scott Simmons, executive director and chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, said adding golf to the Olympics will mean more funding for grassroots programs in Canada.
"It will mean more funding from the government, which is thrilling news for all of us," said Simmons. "We can generate the next Mike Weir or the next Lori Kane quicker than we could without those funds."
He expects more young people in Canada and around the world will being playing the game.
"The Olympics have massive appeal. It will bring more people into the game in Canada for sure but (also) in the developing countries. Golf is played 130 counties around he world, there is always room for growth. I think you'll see the game grow drastically in some developing counties, which is good news."
Rugby was played in four Olympics between 1900 and 1924 in the full 15-a-side format, but now proposes the seven-a-side version. The tournament would be played over four days with 12 teams each for men and women.
"They bring the spectacular side of sport, with a lot of scoring, reversals and turnovers," said Rogge, who played rugby on a national level for Belgium. "You have a lot of countries that can win medals. It's very universal."
International Rugby Board president Bernard Lapasset was ebullient but cautious.
"We recognize the significance of this milestone in our campaign but are also mindful that the ultimate decision rests with the IOC members when they meet in Copenhagen. The Olympic Games would be the pinnacle of the sport for all our athletes," he said.
The 15-member board selected the proposed sports by secret ballot over several rounds, with the sport receiving the fewest votes eliminated each time. Rogge, who chairs the board, did not vote.
Rugby was the clear winner overall, getting seven votes in the first round and a majority of nine in the second. In a separate ensuing vote, golf needed four rounds to get through. Karate led the first round with five votes, with golf getting three. Golf then got six votes in the second, seven in the third and nine in the fourth.
Softball and baseball had been seeking a return after being voted off the program in 2005 for the 2012 London Games. Attempted reinstatements were rejected by the IOC in 2006. In Thursday's ballot, neither received more than two votes in any round.
"We can't throw in the towel, even though it's the seventh inning," International Softball Federation president Don Porter said. "Hopefully we'll come to bat in the bottom of the seventh."
International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller said he saw no point of mounting another Olympic bid.
"That's not for me to decide ... but what are you going to say differently?" he said.

Organizations: International Olympic Committee, Olympic Games, The Associated Press Medinah Country Club Royal Canadian Golf Association Rugby Board

Geographic location: Copenhagen, BERLIN, Chicago Canada Rio de Janeiro Madrid Tokyo Olympia Fields Belgium

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