Baseball/softball hope for last-minute Olympic home run
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Outsiders baseball and softball, bidding to rejoin the Olympics as one sport, are hoping to reel in International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on Saturday with a financial lure.
The two sports, excluded from the Olympics in a 2005 vote, have since merged into one federation to boost their chances of re-entering the Olympics in 2020.
But with frontrunners wrestling - cut from the 2020 Games programme in February only to make the shortlist - and squash battling for inclusion the competition is tough.
While softball and baseball have no doubt improved their chances by joining forces, it is difficult to see how they could edge past wrestling, with all its Olympic funding, wide global appeal and clear IOC support as well as backing from the United States, also the heartland for baseball/softball.
Top IOC members have already praised wrestling for the changes it undertook following its shock exclusion in February while squash is advertising its small, compact and cheap proposition.
However, Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, told Reuters Television: "I think we are going to have a strong message, a very strong positive economic message to the IOC about what baseball and softball can do to be an added value to the Olympic programme.
"We think that this message will show that baseball and softball, economically and (through its) gender equality... is going to be something that we hope the IOC members will see as important, and put baseball and softball into the Olympic programme," he said.
The IOC will select one sport for inclusion in the 2020 Games on September 8 at its session in Buenos Aires.
The chance of an Olympic return for baseball/softball is hampered by what analysts say is a limited global appeal, the potential absence from the Games of the top American players and the larger number of competitors needed compared to the other two sports.
To boost their cause, baseball and softball have added Antonio Castro, the son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and vice president of the federation, to their delegation in Argentina.
"We are fighting for the dreams of more than 65 million boys and girls around the world, fighting for those dreams of so many people, and to be in the party that is the Olympics," Castro said.
"If we are in the Olympic Games, it would be much more than the 65 million (people playing) that we have today."
Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo are bidding to host the 2020 Games with a decision to be announced on September 7.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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