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Baseball hopes doping scandal will boost its case

By Julian Linden

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The Biogenesis doping scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball could have a positive effect on the sport's bid to be reinstated to the Olympics, according to officials leading the push.

Although the sport's reputation was badly tarnished when more than a dozen top players were suspended for their links to the Biogenesis clinic accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs, the World Baseball Softball Confederation believes it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

WBSC co-President Don Porter said the stiff penalties handed out by MLB, which had been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to doping, were proof that the sport was cleaning up its act.

"Doping is not exclusive to baseball," Porter told a news conference on Friday.

"I think many sports have that problem and we have to compliment the MLB because they're working very hard."

Baseball and softball were on the Olympic program from 1992 to 2008 but were kicked out for last year's London Games after a secret vote, held in 2005.

Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not specify exactly why the sports were given the boot, several IOC members have cited the sport's refusal to comply with all the World Anti-Doping Agency rules among the reasons.

Baseball and softball have struck out twice in their joint attempts to get back on the Olympic program and are back at the plate for another shot, short-listed along with wrestling and squash for readmission in 2020.

The IOC will vote on Sunday to decide which sport gets back in and Porter believes the stiff action taken by the MLB could swing things towards baseball and softball.

"They're doing a lot of things: their testing program, sanctions," Porter said.

"They're working at it. They're really doing something to try to eradicate the problem."

Porter said the WBSC bidding team, which includes the son of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, were also optimistic that MLB would find a way to release some of its players to compete at the Olympics.

ABSENT STARS

The absence of MLB stars was regarded as another reason for the sport's expulsion and MLB commissioner Bud Selig has already ruled out the possibility that the league would temporarily shut down its season for the Olympics.

Many of the top players from the National Basketball Association, including four-times MVP LeBron James, compete at the Olympics because it does not clash with NBA season.

The National Hockey League agreed to take a mid-season break to allow its players to appear at next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi but Selig said it was impractical for baseball.

Because the Olympics are normally held between July and September, MLB would have to shut down for several weeks before the playoffs.

But Porter said the WBSC were still in talks with MLB and confident of coming up with a different solution which would allow some players to compete if the sports are reinstated.

"We've been having excellent, very positive discussions with Major League Baseball, as well as the Major League Baseball Players Association, and we're going to continue to do that," Porter said.

"We think that there's a good relationship there; we know that they want to work with us and help us and we're going to do everything possible to make sure we have them on board working with us and we think that's a positive."

The WBSC bid team includes Antonio Castro, the son of Fidel who ruled Cuba for nearly half a century before stepping down in 2011.

Cuba has dominated Olympic baseball, winning three gold and two silver medals in the five times the sport has been played.

Asked by reporters whether the inclusion of Castro's son would have a negative impact on the bid vote, Porter said his family links were irrelevant.

"He's a great athlete in his own right. He's a professional physician, he's been involved in our sports for many, many years," Porter said.

"We don't want to get into the politics of it. We think that Tony being here is a great representative for the sport."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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