The modern Olympic Games date back to 1896, when Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin led a movement to revive the Olympic Games of Antiquity that featured sporting competitions in which various Greek cities participated. The first games organized under his leadership were held in Athens, Greece, and given their success, the experience was repeated every fourth year thereafter, with interruptions caused by World War I and World War II, and by the Coronavirus pandemic. In 1924, separate Winter Olympic Games were held for the first time, and their cycle was modified starting in 1994, resulting in there being either summer or winter Olympic games every two years. The International Olympic Committee, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, oversees the organization of the games and their program, including which sports are included.
Baseball became a medal sport at the Summer Olympics beginning in 1992. It had been a demonstration sport in several previous Olympics. The competition is overseen by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). Baseball and softball were voted out of the 2012 Olympics in London, England, however both sports are slated to return to the program in 2020 if and when the games are held in Tokyo, but will not be present in 2024.
Baseball first appeared as part of the Olympics in 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden. It was added to the program as a non-medal sport of foreign origin. An American team consisting of track and field athletes played against Sweden's first baseball club Vesterås. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, two American teams played versus each other, again as a demonstration event. Baseball was scheduled to be part of the program at the cancelled 1940 Olympics in Tokyo. The 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland featured a modified form of the baseball called pesäpallo, played between two Finnish teams. The 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia featured a one-game exhibition between an Australian team and an American Army team. The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan featured a game between a team of collegiate all-stars from the United States and Japan.
Demonstration tournaments for baseball were held at the 1984 in Los Angeles (the only time it was not a sport of foreign origin) and 1988 in Seoul, South Korea. Eight teams competed in each year; Japan defeated the United States in the final in 1984, and the United States defeated Japan in the 1988 final.
Baseball was added as an official event in 1992. It was an eight-team tournament consisting of a round-robin, and a four-team semifinals and finals. All players were required to be amateurs. Starting in 2000 professional players were allowed.
2012 and Beyond
A second attempt took place in 2013, this time for inclusion in the 2020 program, but it also failed, although largely because of IOC politics. Seven months earlier, the IOC had designated the sport of wrestling to be dropped from the program in order to make room for a new sport; the decision was universally condemned by observers as wrestling counted on a venerable tradition of being present at all Olympic games dating back to Antiquity. With powerful supporters coming out strongly in favor of the reversal of the initial decision, it was clear that wrestling would be readmitted, and that the objective of the exercise - to admit a new sport - would be defeated. This is exactly what happened when the vote took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 8th: wrestling received a majority of favorable votes in the first round (49), while baseball, in its combined bid with softball, received 24 for second place and squash, bidding for inclusion in the program for the first time, received 22. Thus in spite of baseball's good showing, coming out ahead of the seven other sports that were seeking admittance, the whole purpose of the exercise was defeated by the IOC's initial blunder of putting a sport as popular as wrestling on the chopping block in the first place.
New IOC head Thomas Bach gave baseball some hope a year later, when he said that he would propose that future editions of the game use a more flexible program, with the host cities having the possibility of adding or dropping sports based on local preferences, something which could help the sport's case if future games are held geographic areas where it is very popular. This was expected to strongly help the case for 2020 as those Olympics were scheduled to be held in Tokyo. Those hopes were realized in August 2016 when it was announced that baseball would be added to the official program of the 2020 Olympics, alongside four other sports.
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- Note: in 1984 and 1988, baseball was a demonstration sport and no official medals were awarded.