August 19 - As the decision day for which sport is included to the Olympic programme from 2020 nears, baseball and softball have emphasised high global teenage participation levels with the Little League World Series, which brings together around 90,000 young athletes from 90 countries for one of the most prestigious tournaments in youth sport.
The Series for local clubs is now down to just 16 teams from an original number of around 7,000 that have competed in the tournament, and between 350,000 and 400,000 spectators are expected to turn up for the Finals, which are currently underway in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Around 90,000 boys and girls aged between 11 and 13 will compete in the Series, making it the largest participated international event in the sporting world, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
The countries involved in the 2013 Little League World Series qualifiers participated in local and then international regional club competitions to be eligible for the finals that started last Friday (August 16), with teams from all over the world competing.
"Our sport appeals to youth and parents because it's non-violent; there's always a role on the team for every sized athlete and skill-level," said Riccardo Fraccari and Don Porter, Presidents of the WBSC, which is leading the Play Ball 2020 campaign to get baseball and softball back into the Olympic Games from 2020.
"Baseball and Softball are easy to learn and can be played almost anywhere, in almost any culture by boys and girls."
The Little League World Series follows the recent Under-12's Baseball World Cup, which involved 14 national teams and is regarded as the biggest and most successful international youth world championship in sport.
"Our goal is to work with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) members and with all the Olympic sports federations to help empower youth and provide more opportunities for young people to be included in sport and the Olympic Games," the co-Presidents said.
"We are hoping the IOC members will find a place for baseball and softball at the Olympic Games in 2020, and send a message to more young people, especially young women, that the Olympic Games are for them.
"The Olympic Games is the greatest goal for all sports, and, if included, we will place our passion for the Games and our sporting facilities, along with commercial, marketing and digital resources at the service of the Olympic Movement for the benefit of the athletes and young people, and to help Olympic Games organising committees and sport development."
The WBSC hope that broadcasting rights for the Little League World Series in over 80 countries on the ESPN family of networks will highlight the commercial appeal of the sports as well as inspiring more people to get involved in sport.
The IOC are due vote on which sport will gain a place on the Olympic programme for 2020 out of baseball-softball, squash and wrestling in Buenos Aires next month.
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