IOC clears the way for baseball and softball to regain Olympic status

Mon 8 Dec 2014

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Monaco on Monday 8 December, has approved a new Olympic bidding process and adopted a more flexible sports programme concept that could lead to the inclusion of baseball and softball at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

IOC members voted in favour of the new rules on the opening morning of a special two-day session convened to consider President Thomas Bach's 40-point "Olympic Agenda 2020" reform package, the biggest changes to the Olympics for decades.

The IOC took a separate vote on each recommendation.  Eight IOC members were absent, leaving 96 members eligible to vote.

Open door

The IOC agreed to abolish the cap of 28 sports for the Summer Olympic Games and move to an "events-based" system that will allow new competitions to come in while keeping the Games to around 10,500 athletes and 310 medal events.

Host cities will also be allowed to propose the inclusion of one or more additional events for the Olympics they host.

The new rules will clear the way for Tokyo organisers to request that baseball and softball be included in the 2020 Games.  Both sports, dropped after the 2008 Beijing Games, are highly popular in Japan.

Other sports such as squash and karate are also hopeful of joining the Tokyo programme.  In addition, new disciplines and events within existing sports could be considered.

IOC Canadian member Dick Pound said, "This is a major breakthrough.  We were at a dead-end situation with 28 sports.  This provides the flexibility we need."

Thomas Bach said that host cities asking for certain sports must make a proposal to the IOC and present an operational and financial model for their inclusion.  "This includes, in special cases, that the number of athletes would go beyond the 10,500," Bach said.

WBSC comment

Riccardo Fraccari, President of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) said: "The WBSC fully shares the IOC's vision of Olympic reform under President Bach, and stands ready to support and assist the Olympic Movement in implementing the reforms, wherever baseball and softball can help.  The Olympic Games is the world's most inspirational sporting event, and the Agenda 2020 reforms will inspire more young people and women, who are the future of all sports, to participate in sport and in the values of sport, and make sport more relevant to the next generation, and a catalyst for change in our communities and societies."

President Fraccari indicated that the WBSC would wait for guidance and direction from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organisers to determine how the new reforms could involve baseball and softball.

Bidding process

The new bidding process adopted as part of the reform proposals is aimed at making the system cheaper and more flexible to attract future candidates — including the option of holding some events outside the host city or country.

This reform comes at a time when many countries have been scared off by the costs of hosting the Olympics, including the reported $51 billion associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Several cities withdrew from the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan in the running.

The system approved today will make the process more of an "invitation" and allow prospective candidates to discuss their plans in advance with the IOC to tailor Games to their own needs — and to keep them affordable.  In order to cut down on costs and avoid 'white elephants', cities will be urged to make maximum use of existing and temporary venues.

Moveable feast

In the most radical change, cities will be allowed to hold events in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games outside the host city or country "for reasons of geography and sustainability."  This opens the door to joint bids by cities, neighbouring countries or regions.

Several members raised concerns about this idea during the debate, saying it went against the idea of a compact Games and would cause extra travel and costs for athletes.

Swiss IOC member Denis Oswald said: "I am worried that the unique character of the Games could be diminished by this recommendation to allow some events to be dispersed over several locations,” but IOC Vice President John Coates, who headed the working group on the bidding issue, said that holding events outside the host country would only be considered in "exceptional circumstances."

The idea would have to be raised in the early phase of bidding, Coates declared, and would need approval from the IOC Executive Board.

"The compactness of the bid is always important," Coates said. "The cost and the time for athletes to get from the village to their venues is always going to be relevant, but the compactness of the Games has to be weighed up against the cost benefit of being able to use existing venues rather than build new venues."

The measure passed unanimously in the end, with no members raising their hands in opposition.

Olympic channel

A proposal for creation of an Olympic television channel was also due for a vote on Monday.

The plan is to launch a digital channel — possibly as early as next year — to promote Olympic sports between the Games and engage with young viewers.  The channel will feature material from the IOC's archives as well as broadcasts of Olympic sports' competitions outside the Games.

The IOC also plans to re-word its Principle 6 on non-discrimination to include sexual orientation, a move that follows the controversy over Russia's law against gay "propaganda" ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

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