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Manfred rallies behind World Baseball Classic, casts doubt over Olympic participation

Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has maintained that the World Baseball Classic (WBC) has a long-term future beyond this year’s event and has cast further doubt over the league’s players appearing at the 2020 summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The fourth edition of the WBC, which is run by MLB and the league’s Players Association (MLBPA), commenced in the South Korean city of Seoul on Monday. The national team tournament is set to run through to March 22 as games are also held in Japan, Mexico and the United States.

US media reports have recently indicated that this year’s event could be the last due to a lack of revenue and interest in the American market. MLB yesterday (Monday) said that 51 media outlets have signed on to broadcast the 2017 Classic, adding it will be distributed via media platforms in 182 countries and territories worldwide with a global reach of more than 415 million households.

Manfred pointed to these figures when discussing the WBC’s long-term future. “The WBC will be broadcast in 182 countries,” Manfred said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “This will be a $100m (€94.2m) event over this brief less than two-week period. From Day One, while it was a profitable event from the beginning, it has really grown in terms of its revenue significance and its popularity around the world.”

Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, last month said it will be difficult for MLB players to compete at Tokyo 2020 due to scheduling issues. The Olympics are due to take place from July 24 to August 9, halfway through the MLB season, which could affect players’ decisions to turn out for the Games.

Tokyo 2020 will mark baseball’s first appearance at a Games since Beijing 2008. It became an Olympic sport for the 1992 Games in Barcelona, but was dropped from the programme for the 2012 Games in London.

Last August, the International Olympic Committee confirmed that baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sport climbing and surfing would be added to the Tokyo 2020 programme. Baseball and softball’s bid for inclusion at Tokyo 2020 was led by the merged World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).

MLB has not committed to taking part in the 2020 Olympics and Manfred said he doesn't anticipate any change to this stance.

“You know, no matter how you put the event together, there would be a significant number of major league players who would be away from their team,” he added. “It would alter the competition in what I have already characterised as our every day game. I do not believe that our owners would support some sort of break in our season. Continuity is key to our competition.”