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View From The US: LA28 Chairman Casey Wasserman On MLB Players, Indigenous Lacrosse Team

October 25, 2023

In this week’s View From The US article, Sportico’s Eben Novy-Williams pens down important points from his interview with LA28 Chairman Casey Wasserman.

The host committee for the Los Angeles Olympics has been speaking with Major League Baseball and its players about the sport’s biggest stars competing in the 2028 Summer Games, according to LA28 chairman Casey Wasserman.

“We’ve had a very engaged ongoing dialogue with both the league and the players union,” Wasserman said Friday in a phone interview. “We do believe that the best players in the world will want to play baseball in the Olympics and have an opportunity to win a gold medal for their country.”

Baseball is one of six sports that LA28 organizers have proposed for addition to the Olympics program for their Summer Games. Those sports: baseball, softball, cricket, lacrosse, squash and flag football were approved Friday by the IOC’s executive board, and barring any surprises, will be confirmed in the general session in Mumbai on Monday.

Active MLB players on a 40-man roster have never competed in the Olympics. Pros were admitted in 2000, but the league refused to allow its players to compete in 2000 (Australia), 2004 (Greece) and 2008 (Beijing). Their absence is one of the main reasons baseball fell out of favor with Olympic organizers. It was dropped from the 2012 (London) and 2016 (Brazil) games, added back for 2021 (Japan) without MLB players, and will be out again in 2024 (France).

There’s injury risk for MLB players competing at the Olympics, and it would likely require the league breaking up its regular season since the LA Games will be played the last two weeks of July. The league is also a partner in the World Baseball Classic, a different international competition that broke commercial records earlier this year.

Olympic participation would need to be collectively bargained, and the current labor agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires in 2026, though the sides could choose to negotiate sooner. Wasserman declined to provide specifics about their conversations. Representatives for MLB declined to comment. The MLBPA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We think it’s important to have the best players in the world playing ‘America’s Pastime’ at Dodger Stadium,” Wasserman said.

Despite that mention of Dodger Stadium, it’s unclear exactly where all the Olympic baseball will take place. Wasserman said LA28 plans to unveil a final venue plan in the coming months. That could possibly include playing games outside the city, or even outside California.

Here are some other quick comments:

Wasserman said the addition of those six sports will not change the LA28 organizing committee’s $6.88 billion budget. Specifics on sport disciplines, team numbers, total athletes have not yet been finalized, which has led to speculation about whether LA28 will exceed the IOC’s 10,500-athlete “quota.”

“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “We understand that the cap is 10,500. If there’s going to be exceptions to it, those exceptions will come with the appropriate consideration, which is to be cost neutral at worst.”

One of international lacrosse’s best teams is the Haudenosaunee Nationals, which represent the nation formerly called Iroquois Confederacy and competes in events as a sovereign entity. The team has had difficulty gaining entry into some international events—a few years ago more than 50,000 fans signed a petition after the 2022 World Games didn’t extend an invitation to the Haudenosaunee because it did not recognize it as a sovereign nation. Eventually the Irish team backed out to give its slot to the indigenous club. It’s unclear if the IOC will allow the Haudenosaunee team to compete, which will be a big topic of discussion (and advocacy) in the lacrosse world in the coming years. Wasserman said he would like to see it happen.

“The indigenous people of North America created lacrosse,” he said. “If we could find a solution to allow them to compete, that would be incredible. We don’t have that solution today because it requires the IOC to create a competition structure other than the norm… I understand this is not a simple decision, but we would love to see it, it think it would be a really powerful moment for our country and for the sport.”

It’s not uncommon for Olympic Games to hold competition outside the host city. The surfing in the 2024 Paris Games, for example, is taking place 10,000 miles away in Tahiti, with the sailing about 400 miles away in Marseille. Wasserman said LA28 is “open to the idea” of hosting events outside Los Angeles.

“It’s beholden upon us to make sure we’re exploring the best opportunities to monetize and deliver sports from top to bottom, so that may allow us to move some sports to other places,” he said.

—Wasserman declined to comment on whether LA28 will have an agreement in place with the IOC to share in the additional media revenue that the IOC will likely see from the addition of cricket. This was a part of cricket’s pitch for inclusion, which Sportico wrote about in May. The IOC’s current media deal in India is worth a reported $12 million for the current cycle; that will likely jump significantly for the 2028 Games.

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