While baseball and softball will make a return appearance to the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, it might be a short stay. In fact, according to one report, we may not see them at all in Paris in 2024.
Six sports were added to the program for Tokyo in 2020; the decision was made to add these specific sports as part of a new rule allowing host cities to propose extra sports in consultation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Baseball, softball and karate were added because of their popularity in Japan while the other three sports that will make their debut in Tokyo (skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing) were the IOC’s selection; it was hoped they would hold greater appeal with a younger generation – something the IOC has had as a goal.
According to an article in Inside The Games, however, there is no guarantee that these six will return in Paris and it seems very unlikely that all will. All sports will be reviewed with an eye to many factors. So what could hurt the chances of baseball and softball?
A lack of strong national teams, for one. France did not field a team in baseball or softball in any of the previous Olympic Games in which they were featured (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008). France is a member of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, and the nation has sent baseball teams to the Baseball World Cup, Intercontinental Cup and European Baseball Championship. Its softball team is ranked 24th of a total of 63 teams worldwide.
The host nation gets to pick new sports: Any sports added in 2020 will need to contend with the host nation’s preferences to remain on the program. Officials in France have long noted they would like to see some new showcase sports, including squash, boules (similar to lawn bowling or bocce) and perhaps even eSports (which would satisfy the IOC’s wish for a sport that would invite a youthful viewership).
In addition, notes the article in Inside The Games, a different bidding process will be in effect and it may work against softball and baseball:
The procedure and timeframe for adding new sports has not been confirmed yet, but it is likely to be a shorter process than the one undertaken before Tokyo 2020 to avoid an expensive lobbying process. It is also likely that athletes in additional sports will be included in the targeted total of 10,500 athletes in Paris. This would mark a change from Tokyo, where the 474 new athletes across the five new sports were incorporated separately from the 10,616 total for the full 28 core sports which had already been improved.
The need to control costs remains essential as well, and with each additional sport comes an added expense.
The IOC underwent a far more frugal process to add new disciplines and events at Tokyo 2020 within existing sports last year without raising the total number of athletes. Chances for team sports such as baseball/softball and cricket appear to have been particularly reduced because of the far greater number of athletes required.
No decision is likely to be made for some time yet, however. At a recent meeting of the IOC Program Commission in Lausanne, officials proposed a timetable in which new sports would be considered over the next year. If the schedule is accepted, Paris would launch a process later this year. Ultimately, organizers would submit a new sports proposal to the IOC in the first half of 2019. This recommendation would be finalized by the IOC Executive Board in mid-2019 before the IOC Session provisionally approves the shortlist of events from new sports.
The potential loss of baseball and softball from the Games is likely to concern U.S. fans. However, Major League Baseball has already indicated it is unwilling to release key players from its roster in order to make up an Olympic team at the height of baseball season. It is more likely the team will be made up of Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players. This situation was mirrored during the recent Winter Games in Beijing in which the National Hockey League refused to release players to represent either the U.S. or other countries, and players instead came from the ranks of the AHL as well as college teams.