By Karolos Grohmann
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Five sports, including baseball, skateboarding and surfing, are set to feature at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after the IOC on Wednesday recommended them to attract a younger audience and boost local support for the Games.
The International Olympic Committee must now rubber-stamp the inclusion of skateboarding, surfing, sports climbing and karate plus the joint baseball/softball bid at its session in Rio de Janeiro in August.
The IOC Executive Board voted unanimously in favour of the proposal put forward by Tokyo 2020, recommending it as a package, IOC vice president John Coates told reporters.
"This is a very good proposal," Coates said. "It has a good balance between sports popular in Japan and those better engaging youth like surfing, skateboarding and sports climbing."
Under new rules, Olympic host cities can hand-pick sports they want in the Games to join the existing 28 core sports.
"We have successfully passed the first gate," Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori told reporters. "I am very happy with this result."
He said the decision would also help Japan "catch up with the trends of the time".
As part of sweeping reforms initiated in 2014, Olympic hosts can bring in sports popular in their countries to boost ratings and attract greater sponsorship as well as a younger generation of fans.
"It is an honour for our global sport...to be represented within this new and innovative youth-focused Olympic sports package," said World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) President Riccardo Fraccari.
"Olympic baseball and softball in Japan would be the biggest and most exciting international competition in the history of our sport, and would help the Olympic Games touch the entire host nation and worldwide community."
What is not yet clear is whether the United States will be able to send their best players from the MLB, which has traditionally snubbed past Olympics. The IOC said it hoped the world's best baseball players would take part.
The decision over which sports will be added to the Olympics only applies to one edition of the Games.
Baseball and softball, which will have each a competition with six teams, last featured at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 before being taken off the programme.
Surfing, with 20 men and 20 women athletes, will take place in the sea, instead of on artificial waves.
"We are looking at a natural beach for surfing," said IOC sports director Kit McConnell. "Japan has a number of strong surfing areas and strong existing surfing culture."
The International Surfing Association (ISA) said it was "thrilled" to be on the verge of becoming an Olympic sport.
"This is a wonderful moment for our sport and for the global surfing family," ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said.
"Our relationship with the IOC and inclusion in the Olympic Games has been a strategic priority for the ISA for many years and we are thrilled that we are now one step closer to realising our Olympic dream."
Skateboarding will have two street and two park events with 40 competitors each (20 male, 20 female) after problems between rival federations have been ironed out, McConnell said.
Karate will have two events (one men's and one women's) for kata and three weight classes for kumite.
Sports climbing will feature men's and women's competitions for bouldering, lead and speed combined.
A total of 474 athletes are expected to compete in the five sports in Tokyo.
(Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond)