As athletes settled into the Olympic Village and the torch drew ever nearer to Rio de Janeiro on August 3, the International Olympic Committee was already making big decisions about the next four years. That day, it voted unanimously on a proposal to add five sports to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games: karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing, and baseball/softball. The first four sports are new, whereas baseball and softball—treated as a single sport—are reinstatements. It’s not uncommon for sports to be added or removed from the program, but the return of baseball and softball is noteworthy since they’re the world’s most followed sports currently without Olympic status.
But the IOC vote also represents a major victory for female athletes, specifically for its reintroduction of softball. Unlike popular male-dominated sports such as basketball, “women’s sports” like softball can benefit dramatically from the Olympic spotlight. As the head of the Tokyo Games’ organizing committee Yoshiro Mori said, the Olympics are “the world’s greatest sporting stage.” For many female competitors in particular, it’s the biggest and most meaningful platform available to showcase their talent.
Researchers and critics have long noted the wide gender gap between men and women’s athletics when it comes to ticket sales, media coverage, endorsement deals, merchandise revenue, and overall attendance at events. While the reasons for this disparity have been debated, it’s clear that women’s professional sports teams tend to languish in resources and attention compared to their male counterparts.