Baseball qualifying rules set for 2020 Olympics

March 24th, 2018

At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, baseball and softball will return to the Games for the first time in 12 years. Now we know how the competing national teams will make it there.

In a news release following the World Baseball Softball Confederation's executive meeting in Paris on Saturday, the WBSC announced the qualification systems for the baseball and softball tournaments in Tokyo.

Both the baseball and softball events in Tokyo will include six teams. Japan has a spot in each tournament as the host nation, leaving five available positions.

In baseball, the first two spots will be claimed at the WBSC Premier 12 tournament in November 2019, by the Premier 12's top finishers from the Americas and Asia/Oceania regions, not including Japan.

The medal round of the 2019 Premier 12 is expected to take place in Japan, with preliminary rounds of four teams each in Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan.

It's not clear whether Major League Baseball players will participate in the 2019 Premier 12. In the previous Premier 12, held in 2015, MLB-affiliated player involvement was limited to those not on 40-man Major League rosters. Japan's top national team participated, including Angels pitcher/designated hitter and Dodgers right-hander . anchored the bronze medal-winning U.S. team in the 2008 Olympics, the year before he was picked No. 1 overall in the MLB Draft by the Nationals.

Following next year's Premier 12, the remaining three spots at the Tokyo Games will be determined through Africa/Europe, Americas, and Intercontinental qualifiers, likely in the spring or early summer of 2020. The Intercontinental tournament will include the second-place finisher from the Africa/Europe qualifier, second- and third-place finishers from the Americas qualifier, the winner from the Oceana qualifier, and top two finishers from the 2019 Asian Championship.

Softball qualification begins with the 2018 WBSC World Championship in Chiba, Japan, where the top finisher -- or second-place team, if Japan wins -- will earn a spot at the 2020 Games. The remaining positions will be determined at Americas (two spots), Africa/Europe (one), and Asia/Oceana (one) qualifying tournaments.

MLB has never halted its regular-season schedule to accommodate Olympic participation by active Major League players, and there has been no public indication that will change for the Tokyo Games. However, it is conceivable that Major League players could compete in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has indicated that he remains committed to the World Baseball Classic, even with baseball's return to the Olympics. The next World Baseball Classic is likely to be played in 2021. It's not known yet if baseball will be part of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.