By David Gold

Baseball player_Martin_Prado_of_the_Atlanta_BravesAugust 2 - Baseball and softball are stepping up their bid to return to the Olympic Games by merging their governing bodies.

The new federation will be called the International Baseball and Softball Federation initially.

"We have had discussions for some time as to whether it would be advantageous to work together as a combined bid," International Softball Federation (ISF) President Don Porter told insidethegames.

"We have had these discussions for over a year and decided we wanted to do it."

Porter, along with his counterpart at the International Baseball Federation (IBF), Riccardo Fraccari, is currently in London, for the Olympics, the first Games the sport have missed since 1992.

Porter and Fraccari spoke to insidethegames just after they had met with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and had given them the go ahead to form a single international federation.

The IOC still have to formally recognise the new body, once both baseball and softball have had the merger approved by their respective governing bodies.

They told insidethegames that the response so far had been "favourable", with one or two questions from IOC members but no objections.

A constitution is now being drawn up for the new organisation, and the formal process of joining together should be complete before December, when presentations are due to be made to the IOC Programme Commission and Executive Board.

Riccardo Fraccari_President_of_the_International_Baseball_FederationRiccardo Fraccari hands the championship trophy to Parma's captain Michele Gerali at the Italian Baseball League, Italy 2010

Baseball and softball have both failed in respective bids to be included on the programme for Rio 2016 after being dropped for London 2012.

Porter said their failures to be re-admitted onto the programme had been a motivating factor to unite.

"We were not successful the first two times so we had to see whether it was better or not to do something different.

"We came to the conclusion that perhaps working together as a single entity to consider both our sports might work better for us.

"The strength of professional baseball would be very helpful to us.

"Hopefully we will find greater resources than we have now.

"Perhaps we can find greater revenues to open it up in many other countries, there are a lot of girls and boys who want to play our sport but do not have coaches, equipment or facilities."

Fraccari added that "not only is the Olympics the goal, [but] to try to cooperate to develop both softball and baseball.

"If we can combine resources, ideas, we can develop in the future.

"We have to think how we can develop...and this is our responsibility to the young athletes."

One issue softball and baseball suffer from is the perception that they are American, and lack global appeal.

Both federations firmly dispute such preconceptions, arguing that their sports are hardly alone in that one country is particularly dominant, whilst pointing out that they are played worldwide.

Medals in table tennis and diving for instance, are routinely swept away by Chinese competitors.

And as Fraccari points out, the United States are not unchallenged.

"The results on the field show that baseball and softball are not like in the past.

"United States is no longer the king in both sports.

"In the last softball World Championships Japan beat the US."

For example Japan is currently the number one ranked women's baseball nation, with Cuba top of the men's rankings – the US is second in both.

USA vs_Japan_softballJapan is now among the countries who are serious challengers to the United States in softball

Admitting that perhaps communication has been an issue in the past, Porter conceded given the perception of the sports as American that the revenue sharing dispute between the United States Olympic Committee and IOC, which was settled in Québec in May at the SportAccord Convention, had previously been a concern.

"That issue has been resolved and put to bed now...both the United States Olympic Committee and IOC as we understand are back working together as partners.

"At one time that perhaps was a concern.

"I do not think that is an issue at all at this point."

If successful in the bid for inclusion in 2020, baseball and softball would only require one venue rather than two once the merger is completed, and that it would not have to be permanent.

One of the biggest issues for baseball in the past bids has been the refusal of the Major Baseball League to release players to play during the Olympics.

Fraccari said that it was now up to the new body to come up with a schedule that did not take players away from their teams for too long and that was not like "asking for the moon.'

"If we ask them to release their players for two weeks it is out of reality.

"We must offer something that is possible to do.

"My opinion is we have to ask something that is realistic otherwise it is like to ask for the moon!"

The sports are in a fierce battle, primarily with karate and squash, to achieve Olympic status again after being dropped following Beijing 2008 by the IOC.

The new body will hope that they can beat karate and squash, which is bidding for the third time in a row to make it onto the Olympic programme and have been working intensely to finally make it when the decision is made next year.

Yi Jun_Tao_of_Singapore_at_the_womens_wushu_taiji_jian_competitionYi Jun Tao of Singapore competes in last years' women's wushu taiji jian competition

Karate, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboard and wushu are also battling for inclusion in the Olympics in 2020.

Baseball and softball are the only sports which have previously been on the Olympic programme, and Fraccari is adamant that they have learned the lessons of being removed from the Games seven years' ago.

"This is a completely new proposition we are making today.

"We tried to solve the reasons why baseball and softball were kicked out.

"The past was important for understanding why and finding a solution."

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