By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - The decision on which and how many new sports will be added to the slate for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will be determined next year, just before the start of the Rio Games, IOC Vice President John Coates said on Thursday.
Program changes approved by the IOC late last year allow it to bring in more sports and cut some events as it works to keep the Olympics relevant to spectators and sponsors, with baseball and softball -- out of the Games since Beijing in 2008 -- believed to be prime contenders.
Coates, in Tokyo for a review of preparations for the 2020 Games, laid out a timetable that included setting assessment criteria for proposed sports by April this year, and then go to an IOC session for determination just before the start of the Rio Olympics in August 2016.
The decision would take into consideration things such as cost, popularity with youth, how many countries take part in the sport and a balance in gender participation, Coates told a news conference, but declined to say how many sports would be selected.
"I can't tell you whether one, two, three, four, whatever number of events will be recommended ultimately, because that's going to be largely dependent on the composition of the events," he said, noting that this would be on top of more than 10,000 athletes and 304-310 events already specified.
"If there are team events involved, there's going to be more athletes involved. If there weren't team events involved, there could be a combination of other sports. We don't want to rule out any combination."
Besides baseball and softball, which are popular in Japan, karate and squash have been mentioned in Japanese media as potential candidates for inclusion.
Billiards and snooker said last month that they also want a spot in the 2020 games.
Coates said the IOC was pleased with the progress Tokyo has made preparing for the Games but said that a number of venues were still under consideration, with particular attention being paid to costs according to sweeping Olympics reforms carried out last year under IOC President Thomas Bach.
Tokyo won the Olympics over Madrid and Istanbul with promises of a safe and compact games, but the emphasis on lowering costs has led the IOC to urge the use of some existing venues even if they are farther away.
Coates said he remained sure of security even after Islamic militants recently said they had beheaded two Japanese hostages and threatened Japan and Japanese, prompting a widespread beefing up of security around the nation.
"In all of this we continue to have the utmost faith and respect in the government of Japan primarily being able to address the security for the games," he said.
"Those assurances were given and accepted at the time of the bid. We maintain full confidence in the ability of the government to provide security."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)