Baseball set for an Olympic return

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Baseball could be set for a surprise return to the Olympic programme after being shortlisted alongside Squash and Wrestling for a potential place in the 2020 Games. 

Having been dropped from the schedule after the 2008 Games in Beijing, the IOC cited a lack of wide-spread international interest in the sport as the reason for its exclusion. 

With around 65 million active players around the world, the decision resulted in baseball and softball becoming ranked as the largest sport not in the Olympic programme.

However, the authorities appear to have had something of a change of heart, and now Baseball, and its female equivalent softball, are on the verge of a sensational return in either Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo - the three cities with hosting bids still under review. Both decisions are set to be made in early September. 

The IOC want potential Olympic sports to demonstrate not only their global appeal but also their ability to inspire both genders, hence why a joint bid is vital if either baseball or softball is to ever win back a place in the Games.

"Both sports are growing, building on their traditional bases in the Americas and Asia and expanding rapidly in Africa and Europe," said international federation co-president Don Porter. "The sports are booming in countries like China, Brazil, Spain and Italy." 

Baseball first appeared at the Olympics in 1904 and made eight appearances between then and 1998 as a demonstration sport. It was finally granted official medal status for the 1992 Games in Barcelona while Softball was introduced four years later in Atlanta.

The rich history of the sport stretches back as far as June 1838, when the first official game took place in Ontario, Canada. Softball, with slight changes made to the traditional setup of the game - including a larger ball and a smaller field - first came into being in the late 19th century.

Sports interested in registering for the 2020 Olympics that have already been eliminated from consideration include Karate, Roller Sports - specifically the discipline of inline speed skating - Sport Climbing, Wakeboarding and Wushu - traditionally known as Kung Fu, which has over 5,000 years of history.

"It was never going to be an easy decision," said IOC President Jacques Rogge.

"But I feel my colleagues on the board made a good decision in selecting baseball/softball, squash and wrestling to be put forward in Buenos Aires [where the decision will be made]."

A space was freed when wrestling was originally dropped in February - though it was then allowed to reapply. It remains in the running after the IOC executive board voted for it following 30-minute presentations by each international federation. 

Squash meanwhile has never been an Olympic sport, but is played at the Commonwealth Games where, in Delhi 2010, England led the way with six gold medals - including a pair of successes for Nick Matthew. It is also one of the most well funded, non-Olympic sports in Britain, with almost £5 million pledged by Sport England for the period between now and 2017. 

To remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic programme commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games. Up to 39 separate criteria are used to determine a sport's suitability, including youth appeal, popularity, good governance, respect for athletes and respect for the Olympic values.

Whichever sport succeeds in the September vote will be added to the 25 core sports alongside golf and rugby sevens which will debut four years earlier in Rio. 


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