IOC chief Bach leaves door open for baseball at 2020 Games

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

IOC president Thomas Bach said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday the possibility still exists for the inclusion of baseball and softball for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Making his first official visit to the Japanese capital after being elected president of the IOC, Bach said, “We will discuss the issue of the composition of the program. First about the procedure — how to do it — and also about the program as such: the content.”

Baseball and softball were dropped after the 2008 Being Games, and wrestling was voted in as the 28th sport at the IOC’s general session that decided the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The Olympic Charter states that sports inclusion in the program must be decided not later than the session electing the host city.

Although he did not state definitively that baseball and softball are on the way back, Bach said the topic is open for debate.

“You have many stakeholders and interested parties. I have initiated discussion about this. We will have the first broad discussion in December in a meeting of the Executive Board of the IOC, then the Executive Board will present its first discussion paper to the IOC session in Sochi.

“There is of course still a possibility because of course at least right now, if I have the right feeling for my colleagues at the IOC, it is almost the unanimous feeling that we want to have more flexibility in the program. If we agree on this then this famous seven-year rule will not be a major obstacle, because we will have a vote on this and if we want to have a change then this change can be applied.”

The 59-year-old Bach, who was named the ninth IOC president in Buenos Aires on Sept. 10, also said in the interview he has high expectations with regard to Tokyo 2020.

“What we expect is a very Japanese Games also because the games always have to reflect the culture of the host nation,” he said. “This is part of the fascination of the Olympic Games — to reflect the diversity of cultures on our globe. Having seen an excellent bidding team working very closely under the leadership of sport, together with the world of economy and politics, we’re sure that with this teamwork Tokyo and Japan will deliver a brilliant Olympic Games.”

He also said that he expects the games to act as a catalyst for a speedy recovery after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

“I think sport now is a very important social factor that can help to build up society again after such a great disaster, because sport is part of our living. Sport can play an important role in the rebuilding of Japanese society after this terrible earthquake for which the IOC and the world of sports still has great sympathy.”

Another concern for Tokyo has been the projected construction costs and design of a new, futuristic Olympic Stadium, which would be used for the opening and closing ceremonies and is also due to host the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Designed by Iraqi-born, London-based architect Zaha Hadid, the estimated costs of the new Stadium, which would have 80,000 seats compared to 54,000 in the present arena, could be as much as ¥300 billion ($3 billion), as compared to the ¥130 billion ($1.3 billion) in the Tokyo 2020 bid proposal. The Japanese government is scaling it down but keeping the original design, including the retractable roof. Construction is scheduled to begin next year.

“There were some plans about the adjustments in the construction of the Olympic Stadium but they do not affect at all the Olympic Stadium as a sports facility,” Bach said later at a news conference.