Bryce Harper wants MLB players in Olympics; here’s what Rob Manfred has said

Bryce Harper
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Count Bryce Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, as somebody who would prefer to take a break during an MLB season to play in the Olympics.

MLB has never participated in the Olympics, which always fell during the regular season when baseball was part of the regular Olympic medal program from 1992-2008. It will be staged at the Tokyo Games in 2021, but not in 2024.

It could be proposed to be added by Los Angeles Olympic organizers for the 2028 Games, which would require an IOC approval, as would any proposal for baseball to return to the regular Olympic program.

As in 1992-2008, the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament is expected to include minor leaguers but nobody on active MLB rosters. When IOC members voted baseball out of the Olympic program — by a 54-50 vote — one of the strikes against it was lack of MLB participation.

“You want to grow the game? You want to really take it to different countries and different places? You put the baseball back into the Olympics but let the big-league players play,” Harper said on a Barstool Sports podcast published this week. “That is an absolute joke to me, and I’ve said it a million times.”

After baseball was added to the Tokyo Olympics back in 2016, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred repeated that he didn’t see MLB changing its stance from prior Games and allowing its stars to take part.

“I can’t imagine a situation where we would take the kind of break that would be necessary to have our best players in the Olympics,” Manfred said in 2017. “As a result of that, we feel the WBC [World Baseball Classic] is crucial as a substitute, a premiere international tournament that allows our players to play for their countries.”

The World Baseball Classic is baseball’s flagship international tournament, held every four years (and next scheduled in 2021) outside of the MLB regular season. MLB stars participate.

“I’m taking the WBC out,” said Harper, who has never competed in the World Baseball Classic. “I’m not a big WBC guy. That’s not the Olympics. I’m not saying it’s bad. Seeing USA win it last time was awesome.”

The U.S. has yet to qualify for the six-team Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament, getting upset by Mexico in the Premier12 tournament in November. That U.S. team was made up of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

For the next Olympic qualifier, originally scheduled for March, MLB expanded eligible players to include those on MLB 40-man rosters (but not active 26-man rosters). That qualifier was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not saying this is disrespect to any minor leaguers or anything like that,” Harper said. “The 2020 Olympics in Japan, in Tokyo, and you’re not sending big-league guys? Are you kidding me? You want to grow the game as much as possible, and you’re not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don’t want to cut out on money for a two-week period? Like, OK, that’s dumb.”

Harper noted that the NHL took a break in its season every four years to participate in the Winter Olympics from 1998 through 2014.

Japan’s top league is expected to take a break in its season for Olympic participation. But Japan’s biggest baseball stars, like Shohei Ohtani and Masahiro Tanaka, are in the MLB and are in line to miss the Games.

“Everybody watches the Olympics,” Harper said. “I remember huddling around, when I was younger, Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, watching Michael Phelps do his thing, watching Shaun White do his thing. You know, you’re seeing all this stuff and all these freaking people come from every single country watching cross-country skiing.”

Many players who eventually became MLB stars participated in the Olympics, including Mark McGwire and Barry Larkin in 1984, when baseball was a demonstration, non-medal sport. More recently, Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra (1992), Troy Glaus (1996), Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets (2000) and Stephen Strasburg (2008).

“They need to figure it out because there’s no greater place to grow the game than the Olympics. Not even close,” Harper said. “Why not shock the world and put all your big leaguers back into it?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
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Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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