RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Baseball and softball are back in the Olympics for at least 2020 after Games leaders approved the addition of five sports to the program of the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday.
International Olympic Committee members voted unanimously to accept the five-sport package, which also includes skateboarding, surfing, karate and sport climbing.
The five were put forward for inclusion last year by Tokyo organizers, who took advantage of new IOC rules that allow host cities to propose the inclusion of additional sports for their Games. Wednesday's approval is for the Tokyo Games only.
The new sports will add 18 events and 474 athletes to the program. The Tokyo Games will now feature 33 sports and about 11,000 athletes.
Baseball and softball, both highly popular in Japan, will return to the Games after a 12-year absence. The other sports will make their Olympic debuts. The IOC called it "the most comprehensive evolution of the Olympic program in modern history."
Baseball and softball have been off the program since the 2008 Games. The IOC voted both out in 2005. The two were rejected in separate bids to return this year's Olympics, so they combined forces to put forward a single bid for inclusion in Tokyo.
Baseball and softball each will have a six-team tournament.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he welcomed the IOC vote: "Baseball and softball are global sports that belong in the Olympics."
Before the vote, several IOC members questioned whether baseball would have the world's top players at the Games. Pro leagues in Japan and some other countries have agreed to shut down their seasons to send their top players, but MLB has declined. Franco Carraro, chairman of the IOC's program commission, said he hoped the sport's international federation could reach an agreement with MLB like the deals with the NBA and NHL that brought pro basketball and hockey players into the Olympics. If not, Carraro said, it will be "difficult for baseball to be included" beyond 2020.
USF softball coach Ken Eriksen, who heads the U.S. women's team, was ecstatic about the news. "A long, arduous and emotional roller coaster that has taken over eight years to finally end where these two sports rightfully belong, on the world's biggest sporting stage," Eriksen said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times.
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.