INCHEON, South Korea, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The president of the Olympic Council of Asia has thrown his support behind baseball's bid to return to the programme at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who also heads the powerful Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), told Reuters in an interview that Tokyo had all the infrastructure and facilities in place to fit baseball into the programme.
Baseball and softball were on the Olympic programme from 1992 to 2008 but voted out in a secret ballot in 2005, becoming the first sports to be removed since polo in 1936.
They joined forces to bid against wrestling and squash for the one available berth at the 2020 and 2024 Games but missed out after the IOC voted to reinstate wrestling.
"In my personal opinion, yes," said Sheikh Ahmad when asked if baseball should return in Tokyo. "The Olympics as a sporting leader and Tokyo as the hosting city would be happy to see baseball at the Games."
Baseball enjoys huge popularity in Asia, particularly in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, who won the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic.
Currently a sport needs to be voted in seven years before making its Olympic appearance but Olympic chief Thomas Bach has said he wanted to get rid of the rule in order to refresh the programme and tap into potential new viewers and sponsors.
He also wants to increase the number of sports to more than the current 28 by cutting disciplines and events of other sports to keep the total athletes figure at 10,500.
Sheikh Ahmad, who is in South Korea for 17th Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, said the Olympics had to take on a greater degree of flexibility without betraying its ideals.
"The water is moving in the Olympic movement," he said. "We have to maintain the concepts, the ideals, and the roots of the movement, but also modernise with this new world."
Among the changes Bach hopes will be adopted in an IOC session in Monaco in December is making it easier to include and exclude sports from the Games to make them more attractive to spectators, broadcasters and sponsors.
"We have to respect the rules, mechanisms and procedures of the IOC, and therefore I don't want to be in a hurry to decide," said Sheikh Ahmad. "Let us wait for the December session in Monaco and the picture will be more clear.
"But yes, Tokyo has big potential to have baseball as part of the Olympic programme."
Editing by Greg Stutchbury