By Barry Janoff
August 3, 2016: In what the International Olympic Committee said was was the most "comprehensive evolution of the Olympic program in modern history" five sports have been added to the Summer Games roster.
Beginning with Tokyo 2020, baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing will be part the sports program for the Olympic Games.
The decision to add the five sports — which will bring in 18 new events and 474 additional athletes — was made during an IOC meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday (Aug. 3) as the 2016 Summer Games were about to commence.
The vote, however, was the culmination of a two-year process that began with the unanimous approval of what the IOC called a "strategic road map" in 2014. The purpose was to give Organizing Committees the "flexibility to propose new sports" for their respective Games in order to put "even more focus on innovation, flexibility and youth in the development Olympic program."
The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee was the first to be able to take advantage of the plan. Its proposal for the five new sports was submitted to the IOC in September 2015.
“We want to take sport to the youth," IOC president Thomas Bach said when the addition of the sports was unveiled. "With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them."
The IOC said it considered a variety of factors when assessing the proposal, including the impact on gender equality, the youth appeal of the sports and the legacy value of adding them to the Tokyo Games.
The new sports will add equal numbers of women and men for each except baseball/softball, which will have the same number of teams but, because of the rules of the sports, different roster totals.
Respective governing bodies and organizations for the five sports, which had been working for years to have their sport either added for the first time or, in the case of baseball-softball, returned to the Olympic roster, were quick to share their enthusiasm for the IOC's decision.
“We are excited about the IOC’s announcement restoring baseball and softball to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo," Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, said in a statement. "Baseball and softball are global sports that belong in the Olympics.
"(This decision) will allow fans throughout the world to again enjoy baseball and softball on the Olympic stage," said Manfred.
Although played earlier as a non-medal sport, baseball officially became part of Olympic competition at the 1992 Games in Barcelona (which was commorated by the U.S. Postal Service with a 29¢ stamp, pictured), under the auspices of the International Baseball Federation, and was included through 2008 in Beijing.
In 2005, the IOC voted to remove baseball and softball from its list of sports, beginning with London 2012 and through the current Summer Games.
During its five Games, the baseball gold medal was won three times by Cuba (which won silver in the other two Games) and once each by the U.S. and South Korea, currently the defending gold medal winner.
Led by MLB, IBF and then the World Baseball Softball Confederation, which in 2013 replaced the IBF as the world governing body for both sports as a result of the merger of IBF and the International Softball Federation, the Olympic Games were replaced with the World Baseball Classic, a global tournament akin to the FIFA World Cup.
The inaugural WBC was played in 2006, followed by 2009 and 2013; the next is scheduled for 2017. There was no indication whether or not the WBC would cease at that point due to the sport's return to the Olympics.
“Today’s decision is an important milestone in the sport’s history and a momentous day for baseball-softball’s estimated 65 million athletes in over 140 countries, as well as millions more fans around the world," WBSC president Ricardo Fraccari said in a statement.
According to Fernando Aguerre, president for the International Surfing Assn., the La Jolla, Calif.-based overseeing body for the sport worldwide, "This is a game-changing moment for surfing. We are already seeing increased popularity of the sport across the world and the Olympic Games will provide an incredible platform to further showcase Surfing and its core values.
"With its unique and modern blend of sport performance, style and youth culture, surfing will help deliver something special to the Games."
Skateboard icon Tony Hawk spoke for his sport's global community when he said, "It is exciting that skateboarding could possibly be included in the Olympics. This is not only a great opportunity for our sport and the skaters, but for the Games. It is now more important than ever to preserve the unique culture of skateboarding which makes our sport so appealing and relevant."
Of the five sports, the one that has waited the longest to become part of the Olympics is karate, which in its current form dates back about two hundred years but has origins that go back thousands of years, according to its overseeing global organization.
"With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them."
"This decision represents an outstanding and ground-breaking moment for this ancient discipline," the World Karate Federation said in a statement. "The hopes and dreams of millions of Karatekas around the world came true today.
"After hundreds of years of history of this sport, and following many years of hard work by the WKF, the Karate family has finally fulfilled their dream of seeing this discipline in the Olympic Games, which will be accomplished precisely in Tokyo, the capital city of the birth nation of the sport."
The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee said that plans call for staging the skateboarding and sports climbing events in temporary venues installed in urban settings, "marking a historic step in bringing the Games to young people and reflecting the trend of urbanization of sport."
Discussions on the event program in the existing 28 Olympic sports for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are ongoing and are scheduled to be finalized by the IOC executive board in mid-2017.
The Tokyo Summer Games are scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9, 2020.
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