RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan will aim to win Olympic baseball gold on home soil after the sport was formally approved for inclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Games along with four other events on Wednesday.
The International Olympic Committee gave the green light to add a joint baseball/softball bid, surfing, skateboarding, karate and sports climbing to the 2020 program, under a new initiative that allows host cities to nominate a number of new events for inclusion in their own games.
“This was an epoch-making initiative,” said Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori. “We hope that the additional sports will stimulate the next generation and serve as a model for future Olympic Games. I hope people remember the Tokyo Games as a turning point in the modern Olympics.”
Baseball — the most popular sport in Japan — has not featured at the Olympics since 2008, and was included despite concerns that Major League Baseball will prevent the sport’s top players from taking part.
The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) has so far persuaded every professional league around the world except MLB to suspend play during the Olympic tournament, with Nippon Professional Baseball even agreeing to shut down operations for the entire July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games.
“We are very enthusiastic and we are honored to be selected to be on the Olympic stage,” said IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari. “We will do our best to have the best showcase at Tokyo 2020.
“Discussions are going on in a positive way. Now we have even the possibility, with the status of the Olympics, to approach it in a different way. In Japan, NPB announced it will suspend the season not only for the tournament at the Olympics but for the whole Olympic Games, so this means that professionals are engaged with us.”
A total of 18 events will take place over the five sports, with games organizers keen to use existing venues to avoid extra expense.
Provisionally, Tokyo Budokan Hall will host the karate competition, Yokohama Stadium will function as the main venue for baseball and softball, surfing will be held in natural waves at Chiba’s Shidashita Point, and a temporary venue will be constructed to host climbing and skateboarding in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.
“It’s a very special feeling,” said International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguirre. “It’s been a 22-year paddle on this Olympic wave. I’m glad that we were able to ride it and succeed.”
The five sports, which were nominated by 2020 organizers in June, were approved unanimously, but not without concerns being raised over baseball and also the omission of squash.
“Democracy is a process where people say their opinion and the majority wins,” said Mori. “There were diverse views from IOC members and we were really worried listening to those opinions. I wondered what would happen if we were denied. It came into my mind that I might have to resign.”
IOC executive John Coates declared that the additional sports could “help make the Tokyo Games the most innovative in history,” and Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is keen to harness the latest technology.
“Skateboarding, climbing and surfing appeal to young people,” he said. “The competition information will be transferred instantly to the hands of the spectators. The people watching the competition will have a greater sense of excitement and will feel they are taking part in the sport themselves.”