* Sports could return for Tokyo 2020
* Both dropped from Games after Beijing 2008 (Updates with Tokyo 2020 Games chief reaction)
By Karolos Grohmann
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 programme changes.
The two sports now 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.
World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) president Riccardo Fraccari said: “The WBSC fully shares the IOC’s vision of Olympic reform under president (Thomas) Bach, and stands ready to support and assist the Olympic movement in implementing the reforms, wherever baseball and softball can help.”
He said the WBSC 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 Games organisers said they were delighted with the “bright” news but added they would not immediately announce which sports or events they would be requesting to add.
“We are going to review all the requests from federations that have been submitted to us,” Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori told reporters.
The former Japanese prime minister said he would not drag the issue out to avoid speculation and would have some indication by the time of a project review in February.
Karate and squash have also been mentioned in Japanese media as potential candidates for inclusion.
“Both (baseball and softball) are great games, yes,” senior IOC member Dick Pound told Reuters when asked if he wanted to see those 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,” added 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 Monday’s change, the Games become more events-based than sport-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 Olympic 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.
The change 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 and Alan Baldwin)