Olympic Movement


Following a 12-year hiatus since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, baseball and softball are back on the roster for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that for some reason the two sports (considered one sport by the IOC) didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and could be replaced by the likes of breakdancing, surfing and sport climbing. The change for 2024 came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed the Olympic Agenda 2020 that gives Olympic host cities the right to propose sports that are popular in their countries and (presumably) add to the appeal of the Games. Needless to say, Paris isn’t a Mecca for ball players.

However, The Land of the Rising Sun is a huge market for both baseball (the most popular sport in the country) and softball and both are certain to generate much fan passion — Fukushima’s Azuma Stadium and Yokohama Stadium are expected to be at capacity during the Games.

“USA Baseball is thrilled that baseball and softball have been reinstated onto the Olympic Program and we believe that baseball and softball add tremendous value to the Olympic movement,” says Paul Seiler, executive director and CEO of USA Baseball.

USA Softball echoes those sentiments in an official statement: “Softball and baseball’s global reach, loyal fan base and positioning across many of the biggest sports markets continues to offer a unique opportunity to further spread and elevate the Olympic brand.”

Other organizations such as Little League International, Babe Ruth League and NFHS also have faith that the 2020 Games will be a big hit, showcasing the sports internationally and helping spark youth participation.

Despite the hype surrounding the 2020 Games, baseball and softball still face Olympic-sized challenges in the future.

“Little League is excited to see baseball and softball back in the Olympics starting in 2020. The IOC’s decision is important in helping to provide critical support for the future of these sports and strengthen youth opportunities around the world,” says Kevin Fountain, of Little League International.

With the inclusion of these sports back into the Olympics, young baseball and softball players can now once again aspire towards the opportunity to represent their country. At the very least, the opportunity will provide further exposure to the sports of baseball and softball to millions of children around the world.

Many baseball and softball dealers, on the other hand, are hoping that the Games will attract more kids to the sports and hence increase business, but they aren’t banking on it.

“I don’t know if the Olympics will increase participation – it already has a strong base here – but it might have a bigger impact on what other countries are doing,” says Allen Krebs, of Kratz Sporting Goods. Nevertheless, notes Larry Fingerut, of West Coast Sporting Goods, “The Olympics is like chicken soup: it can’t hurt.”

Despite the hype surrounding the 2020 Games, baseball and softball still face Olympic-sized challenges in the future.

“Consistency in the sports is important and right now, there is none — there was just a 12-year lapse and there will be other gaps in the future,” says Michele Smith, ESPN softball analyst and two-time Olympic gold medalist. “This makes it tough on athletes who want to train for Olympic teams.” She places most of the blame on European IOC members who have limited knowledge and experience regarding the two sports.

For softball especially, Smith believes the solution lies in continuing to grow the collegiate game here in the U.S. Additionally, she suggests that greater efforts are needed to get both sports in at the grassroots level in Europe, where they’re not prevalent in schools.

“Softball and baseball continue to have an impact in Japan and the U.S., but it’s a complex problem in Europe,” she explains. “It means teaching the teachers by getting involved at the grassroots level and it comes down to facilities, coaches and the enjoyment of the game.”

Smith echoes the sentiments of many when she says, “The Olympics will help baseball and softball contribute to the ability of kids to have a dream. People will aspire to be what they can see, and premier events help. The Olympics give sports credibility, which affects participation and awareness.”