Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - Page 19 News List

China likely to raze three Olympic baseball fields

AP , BEIJING

The Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, top, and the Beijing Wukesong Sports Center Baseball Fields are pictured in Beijing, China, on July 3.

PHOTO: AP

Baseball may eventually have a future in China. It seems the same can’t be said for the baseball venues built for the Beijing Olympics.

Put up as temporary structures, the two Olympic baseball stadiums and a practice facility are likely to be razed next year unless baseball backers devise a plan to make the game profitable on a high-priced slice of land in western Beijing.

The venues were built on a 50-hectare site that’s scheduled to become a shopping mall and a sports/entertainment complex with 5,000 parking spaces. Development already includes a 280,000m² retail complex and the 18,000-seat Olympic basketball venue.

Baseball doesn’t seem to have a place.

“We’ve had some baseball officials come for a visit, but nobody really has had a proposal,” said Jessica Guo, vice general manager of ACRE, the majority owner and developer of the site. “The baseball market is not there. I don’t think anyone can have a serious proposal. It has to be a proposal that makes sense and guarantees activities to bring people to the site. It can’t be a proposal to come once or twice a year to play games.”

The previous two Olympics were also played in nontraditional baseball countries — Australia and Greece — and venues there aren’t always used for baseball.

In Australia, Rugby League and baseball have been played at the venue, which is also home to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, a large annual carnival. In Greece, the baseball field was converted to a soccer field.

TAPPING THE MARKET

Like many businesspeople, baseball officials see a giant, untapped market in China.

Millions of new fans could be won over and many scouts figure they are bound to come up with the kind of major league talent that is produced by smaller Asian neighbors Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Yet Guo said the three baseball venues were almost certain to be torn down next year, clearing the huge site for development of soccer fields, a running track, perhaps a cinema complex and an unspecified type of “theme park.”

She said the development could take three to five years to complete.

She seemed unimpressed by two exhibition games played 10 months ago by the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

Both games drew sellouts of about 12,000, as did the Olympic gold medal game between South Korea and Cuba, which the Koreans won 3-2.

“There is almost no baseball played in China and most of the people at the Olympic events were foreigners or from Taiwan,” Guo said.

Comments like these could discourage baseball officials who, in addition to struggling to get baseball started in China, are lobbying to have the game reinstated as an Olympic sport.

Baseball won’t be included in the 2012 London Olympics, but could be voted back for the 2016 Games. A favorable vote may hinge on European voters, and on MLB releasing its stars to participate as the NBA and NHL have done.

That vote by the International Olympic Committee will come in October in Copenhagen, Denmark.

‘CONFUSION’

Harvey Schiller, the president of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) — the world body of the game — said he’d been told recently by officials of the Chinese Baseball Federation that the smaller of the two stadiums would be saved.

In an interview, Schiller said the IBAF had been “pretty well assured that the second stadium will remain, and we may move some seats over there from the main stadium.”

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