Softball is not back in the Olympics. Not yet. But the outlook now is a good deal brighter than it was after the sport was first eliminated from the program following the 2008 Olympics and then denied a bid at reinstatement in 2013, losing out to wrestling. Shortly after the latter vote by the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach officially replaced Jacques Rogge as president of the organization. Not unlike the Vatican, another Europe-based institution with a history of opaqueness that recently went through a leadership change, Bach wasted no time establishing a new tone. That culminated in this week’s IOC vote in Monaco to adopt his 40-point “Agenda 2020” reform plan that touches on everything from lowering the cost of Olympic bidding to reforming the program.
The path for both softball and baseball, which now operate under the collective governing umbrella of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, to reclaim a place in the Olympic program for the 2020 Tokyo Games is a byproduct of Bach’s larger reform agenda. Where the Olympics were previously limited to a set number of sports, Bach proposed, and the IOC this week passed, an event-based system that caps only the total number of athletes. The reforms also included a provision for organizing committees to “make a proposal for the inclusion of one or more additional events on the Olympic programme for that edition of the Olympic Games.”
In Japan, where the baseball culture is well documented but which also has a longstanding professional softball league and a national team that won not only the final Olympic gold medal in 2008 in what many considered a stunning upset against the United States but also both the 2012 and 2014 world championships, that makes the bat-and-ball sports prime contenders for inclusion.
That is where things stand now, with people like USA Softball executive director Craig Cress waiting for the next step.