Six months to the return of Olympic softball

Six months to the return of Olympic softball
Softball will kick off the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with a special opening game in Fukushima, Japan.

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Today marks exactly six months to the special opening of the Tokyo 2020 Games, with softball in Fukushima’s Azuma Baseball Stadium kick-starting the official Olympic programme of more than 300 medal events.

At 09:00 Japan time (02:00 CET) on 22 July, the first pitch of the Olympic softball competition will take place, allowing softball to have the honour of officially opening the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, two days before the opening ceremony. Softball at the Tokyo 2020 Games will run from 22-28 July in Fukushima and Yokohama, as host Japan, along with Australia, Canada Italy, Mexico and USA battle for the gold medal.


In the 1950s the American Softball Association (ASA) President Nick Barack was well aware that softball was growing outside the United States and Canada. This is why he had the vision of an "International Softball Federation which will be the representative body of nations in the Olympic and Pan American competition."

Barack was the first President of the International Softball Federation (ISF). He was an interim President that could do very limited action. The ISF elected the first President in February 1965 in Melbourne. Bill Kethan took over for Barack. He didn't like travelling, so he relied for international relations on his young Secretary-General and Treasurer Don Porter.

Porter reached out for the first time to the International Olympic Committee in 1965. The feedback he received from IOC Secretariat was not really promising: "the tendency is to reduce than augment the programme".

During the 1968 Olympics, IOC President Avery Brundage told Porter that "the process was going to be very long". He gave him some advice: "You've got to be patient."

Patient Don Porter and softball proved to be. The sport was voted into the programme of the Summer Olympics on 13 June 1991: it had taken the ISF and the sport of softball 19 years, 6 months, 13 days of campaigning. The date is now celebrated annually as World Softball Day.

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Part of the softball world considered the presence of men's baseball and women's softball on the programme of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics a detriment to men's softball. Nonetheless, the event was a success. The 32 games were sold out and softball ranked 15th (out of 37 events) with 120,000 spectators. A total of 160 media representatives witnessed a controversial gold medal game. USA shortstop Dot Richardson hit a tie-breaking home run that was protested by China's manager Li Minkuan as a foul ball. Australia beat Japan in the third-place game and claimed bronze.

The success of the Atlanta Games helped softball maintain a spot on the Sydney 2000 Programme. The games played at the Blacktown Olympic Center attracted over 200,000 fans. USA earned another gold medal thanks to stellar pitching by Lisa Fernandez and Michele Smith. They defeated Japan in the final. Australia earned another bronze medal.

USA dominated the Athens 2004 Games. The two-time defending champions won seven straight games in group play without allowing a run, shut out Australia in the semifinal and outscored them, 5-1, in the gold medal game. Japan finished third.

Softball was voted out of the Olympic Programme on 7 July 2005. The IOC vote on softball actually resulted in a 52-52 tie.

Heroics by pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who pitched 28 innings in two days to beat both Australia and the USA, helped Japan earn a historic gold medal. Australia celebrated bronze for the third time.

Softball was voted in the programme of the 2020 Olympics on Monday, 28 September 2015, during IOC Session 129 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The result came after the ISF and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) had merged into the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).

Back in the early 1980s another attempt to merge into the International Confederation of Amateur Baseball and Softball had failed when the IOC Programme Commission had voted baseball in and turned down softball.

Read More: Six months to baseball's first pitch at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games