24/04/2024

World Number 1, hosts Japan are a favourite in baseball at Tokyo 2020. (Photo: World Baseball Softball Confederation)

Baseball returns to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020 after a 13-year hiatus, with half of the the six-team competition making their debuts.

Baseball will feature at the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008, and it’s set to be an exciting return for the sport. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Baseball makes its long-awaited return to the Olympic schedule at Tokyo 2020 after a 13-year hiatus. The competition will feature six teams – hosts Japan, first-timers Israel, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, defending champions South Korea and the United States.

Baseball first became an Olympic sport, played for medals in Barcelona in 1992. It had featured as a demonstration sport on eight occasions prior, including Melbourne in 1956 where an estimated crowd of 104,000 witnessed Australia and the United States play in between the track and field events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The sport was presented at the Olympic Games up until 2008 where it was then voted out – the first time a sport had been taken out of the Olympics since polo was eliminated from the 1936 Games.

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee decided to reinstate baseball into the Olympic program, thanks to Japan’s bidding also, as a prominent baseball country.

Baseball is played by two teams of nine players who each take turns on offence (batting) and defence (fielding) throughout nine complete innings, aiming to score more runs than their opponents. If the score is tied at the end of nine innings, the teams continue to play another innings, until one team leads, and ultimately wins.

The defence are positioned at different areas of the field of play, and play starts with the pitcher on the mound in the middle of the diamond. The pitcher will throw the ball overarm towards the home plate and the defence aims to get three opposition players out via a variety of methods.

The offence’s purpose starts with the batter at home plate who attempts to make contact with their bat to the pitched ball and make their way around the bases, scoring a run when they cross home plate safely. Hitting a ball over the outfield fence and within far territory constitutes a home run.

South Korea is the defending gold medallists, claiming gold at Beijing in 2008. (Photo: World Baseball Softball Confederation)

The competing teams at Tokyo 2020

Baseball will feature six teams including three nations making their debuts in the sport at this year’s Olympic Games. Australia won’t be appearing at Tokyo 2020, having withdrawn from the Final Olympic Qualifier, its last chance to compete for a spot at the Olympics.

Japan

Japan was the first team to be announced as a competitor in baseball, having gained automatic entry into the 2020 Olympic Games, due to the country hosting the Games themselves.

The number one ranked men’s baseball team in the world have medalled in three out of the five Olympic Games where baseball has featured – their best placing a silver at Atlanta in 1996, losing to Cuba in a high-scoring 13-9 contest.

Japan boasts one of the best local professional baseball leagues in the world to help their world standings, however, the national team has been successful at various events. Japan has won two World Baseball Classics and finished third on two other occasions, though their most recent title came in November 2019 at the Premier12.

Israel

The 2020 Olympic Games signals Israel’s first entry in baseball at the event however, it is the lowest-ranked team of the baseball contingent, ranked 24. The team qualified for the Olympics after winning the Africa/Europe Qualifying Event, finishing the tournament with the best record amongst the six teams.

Throughout the past four years is when Israel has really started to become a main feature in international competitions – finishing sixth at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and a fourth-place finish at the 2019 European Championship.

Mexico

Similarly to Israel, this upcoming Olympic Games marks Mexico’s first foray at the Olympics for baseball. The team qualified when they claimed third place at the 2019 Premier12 tournament, due to winners Japan already having qualified for Tokyo.

Currently ranked fifth in the world, Mexico, lead by manager Benji Gil, won bronze at the 2019 Premier12, an improvement on its fourth-place finish in 2015. Mexico is also a five-time silver medallist-winning team at the Baseball World Cup and has competed in all four editions of the World Baseball Classic.

South Korea

The world number three, South Korea qualified for Tokyo after finishing second at the Premier12 tournament in 2019, following up a gold medal placement in 2015.

At the Olympics, South Korea is the most recent gold medallists, beating three-time gold medallists Cuba 3-2 for the nation’s first medal in the sport at Beijing in 2008.

United States

After failing to qualify for Tokyo through the Premier12 tournament, the United States then participated in the Americas Qualifying Event, winning to gain entry to the Olympics. The United States has medalled in each Olympic Games the nation’s baseball team has appeared at, including a first-place finish in 2000.

The world number four, the United States is a World Baseball Classic gold medal team from 2017 and is a four-time gold medal-winning side at the Baseball World Cup.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic was the final team to qualify for the Olympic Games, beating two fellow teams in a condensed Final Olympic Qualifier event at the end of June. Tokyo 2020 will mark the first time the nation has competed in baseball at the Olympic Games.

The Dominican Republic is ranked seven in the world and has won a World Baseball Classic gold medal in 2013 and a Baseball World Cup gold medal in 1948.

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The Tokyo 2020 Format

Down from an eight-team competition, as has been the case at previous Olympic Games, the six qualified teams will be split into two groups at Tokyo 2020. Group A will consist of Japan, Mexico and the Dominican Republic whereas Group B involves Israel, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

Each team in their respective groups will play each other once which will decide the placings of the knockout stages, which everyone qualifies for. A total of 10 knockout stage games will be conducted, concluding with a bronze medal and gold medal matches.

The first baseball match to get underway at Tokyo 2020 will be between hosts Japan and the Dominican Republic as a standalone fixture on the opening day of the competition.

Baseball begins on 28 July at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium with Japan hosting the Dominican Republic. Games will also be played at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. After an Opening Round, the competition’s knockout stage starts on 1 August before the two medal games get underway on 7 August.

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