Baseball, softball on track to return to Olympics in 2020


Baseball and softball are set to return to the Olympics in 2020 after a 12-year absence.

The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) executive board on Wednesday recommended that the sports be added to the Tokyo 2020 program along with surfing, skateboarding, karate and sports climbing.

The full IOC membership must approve the recommendation at its August meeting in Rio for the additions to become official.

Baseball and softball are considered one sport by the IOC, with separate men's and women's tournaments that will feature six teams each.

Tokyo's organising committee last year requested that the sports be included for its Games after missing out on the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.

Both are popular in Japan, with baseball established as a spectator sport and the country upsetting the United States for gold in softball in 2008.

Baseball was an official medal sport from 1992-2008, with Cuba winning gold three times and taking silver in the other two Games. The USA managed only one gold medal, winning in 2000 in Sydney, while South Korea took gold in Beijing.

One of the reasons then-IOC president Jacques Rogge gave for dropping baseball after 2008 was the lack of participation by elite players, most of whom are in the midst of the Major League Baseball season during the Olympics.

That does not figure to change in 2020, with the Games running from July 24-August 9, so rosters are again likely to be composed mostly of minor leaguers.

Softball was dinged for lack of "universality," with the USA, Australia and Japan winning 11 of the 12 medals awarded in the sport from 1996-2008.

Among the other additions, karate is a natural fit for Japan with its strong martial arts culture, and skateboarding, surfing and sports climbing reflect the IOC's recent move toward action sports.

That initiative, designed to engage younger audiences, has been more prevalent in the Winter Olympics, but BMX racing was added to the Summer Games eight years ago.

"They represent a combination of well-established and emerging sports with significant popularity in Japan and beyond," the IOC said in press a release. "They include team sports and individual sports; indoor sports and outdoor sports; and 'urban' sports with a strong appeal to youth."

In all, 18 events and 474 athletes would be added to the Tokyo 2020 program with the approval of the new sports.