If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) membership gives its rubber stamp approval at the next session in Rio, Japan’s wildly popular sport of baseball will make its return to the Olympic Games in 2020. Along with the joint baseball/softball proposal – the IOC’s Executive Board Wednesday approved sports climbing, karate, surfing and skateboarding as part of a five sport package to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The final vote to approve the entire package will happen at the IOC Session scheduled for the beginning of August.
The package, approved unanimously by the Executive Board boosts “gender equality” and adds appeal for spectators across Japan and youth around the world according to IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell who made the announcement at a press conference in Lausanne. The package will boost the number of athletes at the Games by 474 and gold medals by 18, with the number of teams in each sport equal between men and women.
Baseball and softball were last staged at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and have since sought re-inclusion.
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) President Robert Fraccari said “It is an honour for our global sport — and a great day for our millions of male and female athletes, and fans around the world — to be represented within this new and innovative youth-focused Olympic sports package.”
“On behalf of our sport, we thank IOC President Thomas Bach for his Agenda 2020 vision — which has sparked this Olympic evolution — and the entire IOC Executive Board for today’s recommendation.”
The package includes a six-team tournament for baseball and softball though an eight-team format was desired by the confederation.
The IOC said that discussions are still underway with Major League Baseball to determine whether players from that North Amercian professional league will be allowed to play in the tournament which would cause disruptions with the regularly scheduled season play.
— WBSC (@WBSC) June 1, 2016
Surfing, also popular in the island nation, is seen as an exciting new youthful sport that can add a new edge to the Games.
International Surfing Association (ISA) President, Fernando Aguerre, said “this is a wonderful moment for our sport and for the global Surfing family. Our relationship with the IOC and inclusion in the Olympic Games has been a strategic priority for the ISA for many years and we are thrilled that we are now once step closer to realising our Olympic dream. I’d like to express our sincere thanks to the IOC Executive Board for providing us with this amazing opportunity.”
“Surfing has incredible youth appeal and a unique culture that would offer huge value to the Olympic Movement.”
McConnell also confirmed Wednesday that the five new sports would not be eligible for a revenue share from the Games that will be distributed instead among the 28 core sports on the program. The five sports, if the package is approved, will be added only to the 2020 program – IOC reforms passed in 2014 allow for host cities to propose the inclusion of new locally popular and internationally played sports to its edition of the Games only. These sports, and any others that are recognized by the IOC, would have to be considered separately for the 2024, and subsequent Games.