MONACO, Dec 8 (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 sports programme changes.
The two sports can rightfully now consider themselves to have one foot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after the International Olympic Committee gave the green light for additions of sports 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.
Tokyo, eager to have the two sports in the 2020 Games, 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.
Following the change, the Olympics become more events-based than sports-based, allowing the IOC to bring in and take out sports much easier than in the past as it works to keep the Games relevant to a new generation of spectators and sponsors.
Tokyo Games organisers can now move ahead with an official request which is seen as a sure winner since the approved change was essentially a nod to the Japanese organisers.
It will still require the agreement of the IOC and the federation, both of which are considered all but certain.
Baseball and softball had made a failed attempt in 2013 to win back a spot on the programme after being taken off after the 2008 Games.
But, despite merging the two federations into one international body to boost their chances, they lost out to wrestling which was readmitted months after being taken off the programme.
Their expected return to the Olympic fold will be good news for the two sports and secure millions of dollars in revenues even though it guarantees them only one Games appearance.
IOC president Thomas Bach, who took over from Jacques Rogge in 2013, has been eager to revamp the sports programme, frantically pushing for this change, saying it was necessary for the Games to remain relevant.
It is also expected to boost the Games' attraction by bringing in sports that are far more popular around the world than some traditional Olympic sports as well as potentially increasing revenues from broadcasters and sponsors.
The change also allows host cities to shore up local enthusiasm by adding a sport popular in their part of the world. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)