By Tom Degun

baseballOctober 12 - The long-anticipated joint 2020 Olympic Games bid from baseball and softball will go ahead after the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and International Softball Federation (ISF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to agree the merger.

The collaboration of the two had long been anticipated after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that a joint bid would be acceptable and the MoU has set out how the two federations will work together.

The key point reveals that a Joint Committee will be set up to develop and present a charter creating a new International Federation, separate to the IBAF and ISF, that will exclusively represent the interests of softball and baseball before the IOC.

The Joint Committee will consist of eight delegates that will be made up of IBAF President Riccardo Fraccari, ISF President Don Porter and six other representatives, three of whom will be appointed by the IBAF and three by the ISF to ensure equal representation.

"This is an exciting milestone for baseball and softball and an extremely important step towards our collective efforts to reinstate our sports in the Olympic Programme in 2020," said Fraccari.

"We have listened closely to the IOC and the Olympic Family – their guidance and suggestions have helped lead us to the historic decision to merge our two organisations.

"This decision is about putting the interests of athletes, our two great sports and the Olympic Movement first – not our individual organisations' interests."

Porter was equally positive.

"The MoU gives us the basis to move forward in our Olympic campaign and gives us added confidence that our plans to merge our two Federations will receive widespread support from our National Federations," said the ISF President.

IBAF and_ISFIBAF President Riccardo Fraccari (left) and ISF President Don Porter (right) believe a joint bid strengthens the chance of baseball and softball appearing at the 2020 Olympic Games

The IBAF and ISF have agreed that the potential for presenting a successful bid would be enhanced by the formation of a joint International Federation by bringing together biggest assets of each International Federation: men's baseball and women's softball.

They also say the merger will significantly strengthen development opportunities for both sports in general through combining resources, projects and events.

They continue that baseball is aiming to reach 19 new territories; softball is aiming to reach 16 new territories and that 40 per cent of National Federations around the world already combined baseball-softball.

They conclude that the merger is more in line with direction of Olympic Movement than separate bids and that it will enable the baseball-softball community, under the new and centralised International Federation, to be as dependable a member as possible within the Olympic Family.

The issue of whether a merger would go ahead was set to be decided at the end of the month at the ISF Special Congress in October 30 in Houston, Texas but the MoU signing is a boost for both parties and it now means the Congress will likely see the Joint Committee meet to discuss the formation of the new merged International Federation.

The joint bid comes after both softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympic programme ahead of London 2012 and they face several challenges in returning to the Games.

Softball faces the problem of being a female-only sport with the IOC looking for more gender equality in the Olympics, while baseball must release its top Major League Baseball (MLB) players for the Games, which it was criticised for not doing last time.

softballSoftball, like baseball, last appeared at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008

But the merger will see the pair work together on solving the problem.

On a wider point, the merger means that the bid race to join the 2020 Olympic programme has gone from eight sports to seven with the new joint baseball/softball bid up against climbing, karate, roller sport, squash, wakeboard and wushu.

The IOC will decide on which sport, if any, to include at its Session in Buenos Aires on September 7, 2013.

A maximum of 28 sports is allowed at the Olympic Games at any one time, and this will be reached at Rio 2016 with the inclusion of golf and rugby sevens.

However, it is highly likely that at least one of the seven bid sports will be included in the 2020 Olympic sports programme with the IOC set to remove at least one discipline currently on the sports programme.

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