AUSTRALIAN softball legend Natalie Ward has welcomed suggestions that her sport is set to return to the Olympic stage at Tokyo in 2020.
Ward wore the green and gold at four Olympics: Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. She won three bronze medals and a silver.
The record-breaking short-stop from Kotara said it was heartbreaking when the International Olympic Committee decided to discard softball for the London Games last year and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
But new IOC president Thomas Bach announced last week that baseball and softball could be reinstated for Tokyo 2020.
‘‘This will be under discussion. We will have the first broad discussion in December in a meeting of the executive board of the IOC, then the executive board will present its first discussion paper to the IOC session in Sochi,’’ he said.
Ward said the loss of Olympic status was ‘‘obviously a huge disappointment’’ for all international softballers but she was optimistic the Japanese passion for her sport would provide a lifeline.
‘‘I played four seasons in Japan and they’re absolutely nuts about softball,’’ Ward said.
‘‘I remember we once played a friendly softball game against Osaka’s baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, and we had a crowd of 40,000.
‘‘That just shows how popular softball and baseball are over there.
‘‘They’ve got so many great facilities over there. They’ve got baseball stadiums that hold 90,000 people.
‘‘If anyone can get softball and baseball back into the Olympics, it would be Tokyo.’’
Ward played an unprecedented 429 appearances for Australia A and, while Beijing was always going to be her swansong, her disappointment was for teammates denied an opportunity four years later.
‘‘I’d already made the decision that Beijing would be my last Olympics,’’ she said.
‘‘But some of the other girls retired because they knew there was no chance of going to London. Really once you’ve played on the Olympic stage, you can’t think about going backwards.
‘‘So some of the girls retired prematurely, which was a real shame, and also the younger girls coming through missed out on the chance to play at an Olympics, which was just as disappointing.’’
Ward, who was the captain in Beijing, said the sport had suffered over the past five years and it would be a ‘‘huge boost’’ to get the nod for 2020.
She noted IOC officials had made a commitment to ‘‘gender equality’’, yet the only all-female sports at London last year were synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.
‘‘The numbers of people playing the game have depleted somewhat since it was dropped as an Olympic sport,’’ she said.
‘‘A sport like softball, it can’t really flourish without being an Olympic sport.
‘‘It was just starting to build some standing and it was taken away from us.
‘‘To have it come back would be great. When you think about it, there are something like 30million players worldwide, so it’s a huge sport.
‘‘I think it deserves to be in the Olympics and hopefully in 2020 we’ll see it back.’’