MONACO (Reuters) - Baseball and softball, out of the Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Games, edged closer to a return to the world's biggest multi-sports event on Monday when the IOC approved programme changes.
The two sports can now consider themselves to have one foot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after the International Olympic Committee gave the green light for sports to be added without requiring the seven-year rule.
In a recommendation approved by the IOC session in Monaco, Games organisers can request the inclusion of a sport that is not on the Olympic programme.
"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," President Riccardo Fraccari said.
Fraccari said the World Baseball and Softball Confederation would now wait for guidance and direction from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organisers to determine how the new reforms could involve baseball and softball.
Tokyo is widely expected to make a request, given the popularity of both in Japan and the IOC's interest in making the Games more exciting with the addition of more sports than the current 28.
"Both are great games, yes," senior IOC member Dick Pound told Reuters when asked if he would want to see these sports in Tokyo.
"It is easier for softball with the best players having competed in the Games in the past. Baseball has to wrangle to get their best players," said the Canadian.
With the summer Games falling during the Major League baseball season in the United States, it was difficult in the past for the Olympics to attract the sports' biggest names.
Following the change, the Games become more events-based than sports-based, allowing the IOC to bring in more sports and cut some events as it works to keep the Games relevant to a new generation of spectators and sponsors.
Baseball and softball, now under one international body, made a failed attempt in 2013 to return to the programme and the change will secure millions of dollars in revenues.
IOC president Thomas Bach, who took over from Jacques Rogge in 2013, has been eager to revamp the sports programme as a necessity for the Games to remain relevant.
It is also expected to boost the Games' attraction by bringing in sports that are far more popular globally than some traditional Olympic ones as well as potentially increasing revenues from broadcasters and sponsors.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris/Alan Baldwin