Japan and the United States are longtime rivals in softball, and the two countries have consistently had the best teams in the sport. Jointly their national teams have won all of the gold medals in Olympic softball history. Since it was introduced at the 1996 Summer Olympics, the US won three times in a row before its streak was broken by a Japanese win in 2008.
The sport was then cut by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the 2012 and 2016 iterations of the world’s foremost international sports competition. In non-Olympic tournaments, Japan has won recent world titles and is the reigning world champion, but the teams are not satisfied. After the loss of the Olympics, the Americans and Japanese teams lost much of their funding, and are operating on tight budgets.
Now the two countries are hoping to bring softball back for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. US national coach Ken Eriksen said that “both countries recognize the importance of working together to promote the game abroad.” Since Japan is the host country in 2020, they may use their leverage to push for sports that their teams have been successful in, softball included. The US is participating in the upcoming four-team Japan Cup in August, hoping that a successful competition there might influence the IOC’s decision.
The chance of Olympic softball being reinstated seems feasible. New leadership and widespread reforms in the IOC have given hope to softball and baseball, which are both governed under the World Softball Baseball Confederation. Another tournament is being held later this year in Taiwan and Japan to similarly promote the men’s game. The IOC also recently decided to remove the cap on the number of sports and only cap the number of athletes that can participate in each iteration of the Olympics. The IOC has shortlisted the combined softball-baseball bid on a list of eight possible sports to include in the 2020 Tokyo games, and the final decision is expected in August 2016. If approved, it will be good news for both Japanese and American female athletes eager for another opportunity to compete.
Meghana Nerurkar is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at American University.