Don Porter, the key figure to get softball into the Olympics in 1996 and back onto the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games, died Sunday at age 90.
“The main architect of the internationalization of softball,” World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) President Riccardo Fraccari said in a press release. “Through his vision, efforts and decades of service, softball became an Olympic sport.
“He will be remembered forever as one of the most influential leaders in the history of the sport of softball, which is now played in over 130 countries around the world.”
Porter was president of the International Softball Federation (ISF) for 26 years, during which the sport was added to the Olympic program for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Baseball and softball were cut from the Olympic program by an IOC members vote in 2005, the first sports axed from the Olympics since polo in 1936.
A total of 105 IOC members were eligible to vote “yay” or “nay” on all Olympic sports. A majority was needed to remain in the Games. Baseball went down 54-50. Softball was 52-52, a single vote from remaining at the Olympics.
Critics said softball wasn’t global enough. Not popular in Europe. That the U.S. dominated (before Japan became the first country other than the U.S. to take gold in 2008).
Porter and softball’s backers experienced further heartbreak when the IOC voted it down again in 2006, 2009 (losing to rugby and golf for the Rio Games) and 2013 (losing to wrestling, which remained on the Olympic program). Beginning in 2013, baseball and softball combined to form the WBSC, with Porter as co-president, to better their chances at Olympic inclusion.
While softball was off the Olympic program, Porter kept a box of 511 letters on his desk. They came from girls all over the world, from America to Zimbabwe, who were heartbroken.
“They touch my heart and constantly remind me of our mission and vision to give every little girl and boy in the world a chance to play our game through your Games,” Porter said in WBSC’s presentation at a 2013 IOC session. “In my judgment, you can’t leave a better personal legacy than giving young people a chance to dream of taking part in the Olympics.”
Softball and other sports received new life for the Tokyo Olympics when the IOC in December 2014 approved Agenda 2020, which included a provision that an Olympic host city could propose sports to be added for its specific edition of the Games.
Tokyo organizers submitted baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing in 2015. The IOC approved their inclusion, two days before the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.
“Softball would not be returning to next year’s Olympic Games without the life and work of Don Porter,” Fraccari said.
Before leading the ISF, Porter was executive director of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA). In 1962, he launched the first world softball championship for 1965. He began the push for softball’s Olympic inclusion in 1968, ultimately succeeding in a 1991 IOC decision.
Porter served in the Army during the Korean War and was awarded the Korean War Medal in 2001 by the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Korea, according to the Oklahoman.
Softball was originally scheduled as the first sport to be contested at the Tokyo Olympics, its first games two days before the Opening Ceremony and in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. It’s expected to remain as scheduled in July 2021.
“Modern softball history is directly linked with the name of Don Porter, the most important softball leader ever, alongside the inventor and early developer of the game, George Hancock,” WBSC Softball Chairman Tommy Velazquez said.