How the Numbers Added Up for Softball to Return to the Summer Games

Softball will take its best swing in Las Angeles in 2028. USA Softball President and CEO Craig Cress shares his thoughts.

How the Numbers Added Up for Softball to Return to the Summer Games

USA Softball CEO and President Craig Cress focused on numbers over emotions when awaiting word on whether softball would be part of the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. One number loomed over the rest: 10,500—the number of athletes the IOC allows to participate. As a team sport, softball allows more opportunities for athletes to become Olympians than an individual competition like break dancing. The tradeoff is that team sports take up more of the 10,500 allocated spots. 

On that fateful day in October, Cress woke at 1:30 a.m. in his Oklahoma City home to watch the IOC’s final call on the 2028 Games. “I wasn’t going to miss it,” Cress says. 

As it turns out, softball didn’t miss its chance to return to the Summer Games program, joining companion sport baseball in making a comeback after falling off the 2024 slate.

The 2028 lineup certainly favors team sports—cricket will make its Summer Games debut then—more than the 2024 Paris Games, which will focus more on individual accomplishments in competitions like break dancing, which will sit out L.A. 

Cress couldn’t be happier for the reversal of fortune, as he shared with Connect Sports in a recent interview. Read on for our chat.

Craig Cress, USA Softball

What was your first reaction when you heard the news that you were back in the Summer Games?

Relief and the reason I say that is on the executive board for the WBSC [World Baseball Softball Confederation]. So, I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with LA28 for a good while now, starting with a meeting at the World Games in Birmingham in July 2022. I knew that they were pushing for us and we did everything we could do. It was just a matter of whether or not it was enough for the IOC members. I’m obviously very excited for the athletes to know there's a prize out there, something large that they dream about. That dream is alive, and it gives them a little bit more incentive as to why they play the game.

Before we look forward, can you look back at the Tokyo Games and describe the experience with COVID still present?

First of all, kudos to the local organizing committee in Tokyo for having the COVID delay and then still pulling off the Games. Not having the fans had to be tough on their economics.

Our team was chosen prior to COVID and we were so glad to be able to have an opportunity to play on that stage and got to be called Olympians when it was done. That was extremely important. I look in our museum in Oklahoma City and we have pictures of players in masks when they're doing interviews. It will always be remembered for that. Hopefully, we won't have to go through any of that anymore. 

How has the back-and-forth Summer Games affected participation in the sport?

I don't think it's affected it a lot. The College World Series is a great stage and even when we don't have the Summer Games, we have international competitions. We just finished the Pan American Games in Chile, which happens every quad. That softball has been lucky to be a part of, especially on the female side for for many, many years. Then we have our World Cup and the finals for the World Cup are next July. 

We also started the U-15 we just had our first World Cup that was held in Japan. We were fortunate to come out on top there. Puerto Rico came in second and Japan came in third. 

Obviously, you want the U.S. to win but what’s it like watching the world catch up?

When I'm talking for the USA, I want to win when putting on my WBSC hat, it’s better for the game the more competition that can be built across the world. Look at the 2021 Games and the closeness of the competition. There was a lot of parity. A bounce here or bounce there and Australia or Canada could have been in that final game, or even Mexico, instead of us or Japan. That parity is a great thing for our sport.

How does having the Summer Games on home soil help softball’s chances of staying in the Games?

Every time you get the chance to showcase your sport, and I think that's where I'm very proud of what we've been able to do. Every time we're on the program, it’s a hit. If we had fans in Tokyo, we'd really have shown the number of people that come to the baseball and softball games. I know what we did on the broadcast and social media networks because we have all those facts and figures, and we were easily in the top 10 sports of the Games—if not the top five.

There are more choices than ever for girls to play sports. How does softball keep up with the other options?

We've always been a proponent of multi-sports. We don't want kids at an early age to be pigeonholed. We already know that it's going to happen on its own—you're going to get pressured somewhere along the lines by a coach here or a coach there, so we don't want to put any undue pressure. I think that that's important for female athletes as well as male athletes.


Photo Credit: USA Softball