• Justine Smethurst #11 of Australia during Day 4 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Vladimir Rys) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
As the Aussie Spirit prepare for the World Softball Championships in Canada, the sport is preparing for the long-awaited verdict on a short-term Olympic Games recall.
Kate Symons

1 Jul 2016 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2016 - 11:45 AM

At 21 years old, Australian pitcher Justine Smethurst was the baby of the Aussie Spirit’s 2008 Olympic campaign. Now at 29, the Brisbane-based softballer believes she is ready for an Olympic comeback.

But Smethurst’s fate is out of her hands, and will be determined in at least August when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will vote on whether softball, as part of a six-sport package, will be included in the Tokyo 2020 program.

It is the first time an Olympic host city has been given the opportunity to apply for the inclusion of additional sports. It is also the latest, in a string of reinstatement attempts made by softball officials since the sport was officially dropped from the Games in 2006. 

Softball last appeared at an Olympic Games in 2008.

Smethurst, whose pitches clock about 110km/h, admits she has considered the potential fairytale. She even suggested that in four years’ time she could be in her prime. But with the World Championships in Canada next month, the Melbourne product has more pressing matters at hand.

Australia has two bronze medals to show for their past two World Championship campaigns as they head to North America, determined to score an upgrade. Smethurst believes the Spirit boasts the right mix to bring home Australia’s first gold in more than 50 years.

“Australia has won both bronze and silver medals [at recent world championships] and it’s time for us to bring home a gold medal”

“Australia has won both bronze and silver medals [at recent world championships] and it’s time for us to bring home a gold medal,” she said.

“I think we’ve got the right mix of players this year. [We’ve got] the girls who have been in the international softball game for a long enough time to do that.”

Still, Smethurst isn’t playing down the Olympic angle. She believes chances of reinstatement are “very high” and said it is definitely a hot topic when the team get together.

It is also another reason to fight for gold when the World Championships start on July 15. “Placing high at the World Championships puts us in a good position moving forward to get some of that funding back into the sport,” Smethurst said.

“I definitely think where we fit in the world standings when the decision of reinstatement is made will impact our support financially.”

Funding is a sore point at Softball Australia where players are forced to self-fund tours such as the upcoming world titles. Smethurst is one of “more than half” of the Australian team who took to the crowdfunding platform gofundme to raise the fee for this tour.

Softball Australia CEO, Chet Gray, said the organisation was down “about $2 million” in Federal Government funding since the sport’s “heyday”. He said the impact has been extensive with services such as strength and conditioning, sports science, sports medicine and training camps all taking a big hit.

“Through it all we're still right up there with [softball powerhouses] the United States and Japan,” Gray said. 

“That shows you something about the heart and the dedication of the women softballers in this country.”

“That shows you something about the heart and the dedication of the women softballers in this country.”

Softball’s Olympic push gained momentum when the sport joined forces with baseball, also expelled from the Games in 2006. The two international federations merged in 2013, creating the World Baseball Softball Confederation and providing a more financially viable recall model.

It is proposed that the “diamond sports” will be played at the same Olympic venue; baseball in the first week of the program and softball in the second, with a few overnight venue adjustments in between.

The other sports in Tokyo’s package are karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. The IOC vote will consider the sports together, not individually.

Smethurst, who still fondly recalls the “beautiful culture” of the 2008 Australian Olympic Team, is adamant her beloved softball deserves its place at the Games.

“The Olympic Games is the pinnacle for our sport and that’s not the same for every sport that gets to go to an Olympic Games,” she said.

“We’re an all-girls team sport and we want to empower young ladies of tomorrow to grow up believing they can be involved in something as special as an Olympic Games, too.”


2016 Women’s World Softball Championships
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
July 15-24
Visit Surrey 2016 for pay-per-view streaming details


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