For an Australian baseball player, reaching the major leagues in the United States is a rare feat. Only 32 players born in Australia have done so. Baseball by referenceLiam Hendrix with the Chicago White Sox, serving as the most notable current player. But in a country where baseball is not a mainstream sport, reaching the Olympics is a more widely recognized achievement.
“It was always the goal to make the major leagues, first and foremost,” Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics minor league pitcher Tim Atherton said in a phone call from his home in Shellharbour, about two hours south of Sydney. . “But to be able to have the chance to be an Olympian, it would validate the sacrifice and hard work and training of the last 20 years.”
Atherton, who competes in other international competitions, will not get that chance: Australia will miss the final Olympic qualifiers starting in Mexico on Tuesday. Neither China nor Taiwan. Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, and due to a range of challenges ranging from health and safety concerns to government regulations, the final qualifying event for Tokyo – originally scheduled to be held in Taiwan and involving six countries – will only include There will be three participants.
As organizers of the Tokyo Olympics go ahead with plans for the Summer Games starting next month, the baseball qualifiers have highlighted the difficulties of hosting international sporting events during the pandemic. Australia, which withdrawn two weeks ago, quoted by Glenn Williams, chief executive officer of Baseball Australia, Called The “insurmountable” challenges given the late change in venue stemmed from virus concerns.
“I was speechless, then I was angry because like, ‘Why?'” Atherton, 31, said of his reaction when Australia would be kicked out of the tournament.
“I didn’t sleep well for a week,” he said. “I actually ran and got sick, just the body succumbing to despair. The why and what if are the two hardest things to overcome.”
Final place at the Tokyo Games, where baseball is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, will go to Venezuela, the Netherlands or the Dominican Republic. they are three countries ranked 8th, 9th and 10th in the world. But Taiwan and Australia were considered better, placing fourth and sixth, and they liked their prospect of claiming the remaining berths.
“I’m sad about it because Australia is a strong team and Taiwan is even bigger,” Riccardo Fraccari, president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the sport’s governing body, said in a telephone interview. Qualifiers for some sports, such as boxing, were canceled, but Frackery said, “What is important, in my opinion, is the on-field qualifiers, not the rankings.”
Still, he said he understands the obstacles Taiwan and Australia face. Taichung City was originally the host of the qualifiers, but less than a month before the start of the games on 16 June, cases escalated in Taiwan and the government imposed travel restrictions on foreigners that extended beyond the start date for the qualifiers. so WBSC pulled this event and scrambled to find a new host.
“I haven’t slept for a week,” said Frackery. “Can you imagine moving a competition from continent to continent with officials in five days?”
Frackery said WBSC considered hosting the final qualifier in Florida – where it successfully held the six-team Americas qualifier from May 31 to June 5 without a virus outbreak – but finding field at the last minute was a problem. was. He said Mexico has solved a lot of problems, and he thanked government officials there – such as President Andres Manuel López Obrador, a devoted baseball fan – for hosting the event.
But the new host city, Puebla, about two hours from Mexico City, Wasn’t announced as new site until 28 May, except for Taiwan and Australia – who have previously won silver medals in baseball at the Olympics – with little time to adjust.
A week later, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association announced that it was withdrawing from the final qualifiers. statement posted online Confirmation of the decision included two graphs showing rising cases and deaths on the island. Taiwan also said Its team could not practice at home due to restrictions, and was concerned about the safety of its players and coaches in Mexico, where more than 3,000 new cases are reported every day.
“In the end, the mountain was too big to move,” said the Taiwanese team.
China’s baseball team did withdrawn from the event weeks ago, when it was still supposed to take place in Taiwan.
After Taiwan’s exit, Atherton, co-captain of the Australian national team, thought his country’s chances of reaching the Olympics, which begin on 28 July for baseball, had improved. But the qualifiers going to Mexico really made it tough.
Williams, who won a silver medal with Australia in 2004 before running Baseball Australia, said in a statement, “Participating in the final Olympic qualifiers in the post-Covid world was always going to present significant challenges.” “The plans for Taiwan were comprehensive and with the late change in location and dates, those plans became obsolete. We worked through several options and scenarios but the logistical challenges of providing a safe environment for the group were insurmountable.
Williams said there were a lot of unanswered questions about the player’s health and logistics, and it was complicated to move a large group through two continents with limited flight options. Atherton said the team was facing the prospect of spending double their travel budget to get to Puebla via stops in Los Angeles and Mexico City. He also said that the team is concerned that someone at the travel party could test positive for the coronavirus and will have to remain in Mexico and under undisclosed care.
However, above all, there were government sanctions and Olympic protocols that the team would have to meet. Although Atherton stated that almost all members of the team have been vaccinated, Australian Rules Make 14-day quarantine mandatory for all travelers coming from abroad.
“Even if Team Australia managed to win the event, time did not allow the team to meet and meet the quarantine in Australia. entrance requirements For the Tokyo Games,” Williams said.
Atherton commended Team Australia for exploring every option, and said he understood WBSC’s reasoning for going ahead with the qualifiers. But he lamented that the world’s two highest-ranked teams – Taiwan and Australia – would not be in the Olympics.
One of Atherton’s dreams was to see her three boys play in her games. The next time baseball will likely take place at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028. Atherton would then be 38, playing professionally in Australia. He said his frustration could help meet that goal. But for some of his teammates, the Tokyo Olympics may have been his only shot.
Former major league pitcher Travis Blakely, 38, wrote on Twitter: “No one is telling if I’ll get to wear green and gold again.” “That’s not how I ended it!”
Despite the rush of emotions now, Atherton said he didn’t want to sink into self-pity because so many people around the world were lost to the virus more than sports. The final qualifiers can be difficult to watch, he said, but he will tune in next month.
“Dude, I’m definitely watching the Olympics,” he said. “I’m a sports fan and baseball fan, first, and then a salty not-to-be Olympian third.”