Olympics 2008: Baseball in China

Baseball became an Olympic discipline in Barcelona 1992. Although there were previously many world championships held in irregular time intervals. The first ‘Baseball World Championship’ took place 1938 in England, though there were only two teams who participated; England and USA. Thus, the label ‘World Championship’ may be somewhat exaggerated, but when it is officially so, then it is so.

Cuba is by far the most successful baseball-nation of the world. The Cubans won the title 25 times at 36 world championships. They also used the occasion of the sport’s introduction at the Olympic Games 1992 to set an example at the first baseball-competition in the history of the Olympic Games. In the tournaments final the Cubans defeated Taiwan with 11 runs to 1. They continued their success by winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996 and in Athens 2004. However, in 2000 in Sydney the Cuban team lost the final against the USA and thus had to be content with silver.

China has had a Baseball league since 2003. The Softbank Group from Japan helped in organising the Chinese league right from the start and will continue this in the future. There are six teams that take part in the Chinese Baseball league; the Beijing Tigers, Tianjin Lions, Shanghai Eagles, Guangdong Leopards, Sichuan Dragons and the Jiangsu Hopestars compete with each other. In only three years of the leagues existence, the Beijing Tigers have always won the title.

The people responsible for the sport’s development in China see the growth of the league as a good opportunity to make the Chinese team more competitive for the Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing. All the same China is represented as host for the games for the first time in the baseball competition.
 In order to support the Chinese team, China started co-operations with both the American Baseball league (MLB) and the New York Yankees. In addition, they contracted two All-Stars from the ranks of MLB; Jim Lefebvre as Team Manager and Bruce Hurst as coach.

Also, the national league takes place over a period of three months, and for this reason the national team has more time to prepare for the Olympic Games. Usually a season is longer than five months. So we can remain curious whether this intensive preparation does actually have an effect. However, realistically the chances for the Chinese in baseball are rather bad, due to the fact that the national league’s development remains in its infancy and baseball in general is still a sport that enjoys little popularity in China.

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