June 22, 2015 / 5:03 AM / in 2 years

Baseball, softball on shortlist for Tokyo 2020

TOKYO (Reuters) - Baseball and softball top the shortlist of sports competing for spots as additional attractions at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics along with homegrown favorite karate, organizers said on Monday.

Bowling, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu were also included among the final eight, whittled down by a committee from the original 26 sports which applied for inclusion earlier this month.

As part of reforms initiated by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach last year, Games hosts have the chance to bring in one or more sports popular in their country to boost ratings and attract greater sponsorship.

Organizers would prefer sports already popular in Japan so new venues would not need to be built and add to ballooning costs.

Baseball and softball, united under the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), are strong favorites to return to the Olympics for the first time since Asia last hosted the Summer Games, in Beijing in 2008.

"This is a great day for our sport," WBSC president Riccardo Fraccari said in a statement.

"Today baseball and softball -- and the millions of athletes and fans who call it their sport -- reached first base."

Karate has never been contested at the Olympics. Judo, its fellow homegrown martial art, first joined in 1964, when Tokyo last hosted the Summer Games, and has been included on every program since 1972.

Squash officials, snubbed three-times in their bid for inclusion at the 2012 Games in London, next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo 2020, were delighted to have another opportunity.

"We are confident that squash would bring something special to the program of the Olympic Games," World Squash Federation president Narayana Ramachandran said. "Squash is a fine gladiatorial sport played all over the world and featuring great athleticism, competition and broadcast output."

Surfing's governing body emphasized its appeal to a younger audience.

"With its youthful values and engagement, Surfing has incredible global appeal and a unique and modern blend of high performance, style and culture," International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre said.

"This is a significant milestone for our sport... with the new, cost-effective Surf parks that are revolutionizing our sport, we are confident that this is the perfect time for Surfing to step up to the greatest sporting stage."

A final decision will come in August 2016.

Other sports which had been bidding to take part included tug of war, bridge, chess, sumo wrestling, billiards and orienteering.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/John O'Brien/Ossian Shine

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