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Skateboarding closes on Tokyo 2020 inclusion

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Tokyo (AFP)

Japanese officials reacted with cautious optimism Thursday after Olympic chiefs supported the proposal to add skateboarding and four other sports to the Tokyo 2020 Games programme.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday recommended skateboarding, surfing, karate and rock climbing, along with baseball and softball, be submitted to the IOC session at the Rio Games in August.

"Skateboarding is hugely popular with young people across Japan and has global appeal," Japan Roller Sports Federation (JRSF) secretary Masako Matsumoto told AFP.

"The sport's inclusion would raise interest in the Olympics among young people."

If accepted by the IOC, terms such as "disco flip", "roastbeef grab" and "mongo-foot" could become part of the modern Olympic vernacular.

The five sports would add 18 medals and 474 athletes to the Olympic programme in Tokyo, without affecting existing sports, according to the IOC.

Skateboarding and surfing, in particular, have legions of trendy fans across Japan, dedicated not only to the sport but the lifestyle and fashion as well.

"While it is true we have moved a step closer to becoming an Olympic sport, it's not yet official," said JRSF president Katsuei Hirasawa.

"We have to continue to grow the sport and develop our athletes," he added.

"If the IOC approve skateboarding's inclusion we will strive to bring on athletes and improve their training environment in order to win medals."

- Tug of war -

Japan would expect to challenge for medals in baseball, the country's most popular sport, having won silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and bronze in Athens eight years later.

They also won the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009 before taking bronze three years ago.

Japan's women won softball gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, completing a full set of medals after reaching the podium in 2000 and 2004. Baseball and softball were removed from the Olympic programme after Beijing.

The five sports hoping to join Tokyo 2020 have been whittled down from an initial list of 26 hopefuls which included tug of war, polo and the World Underwater Federation — which oversees sports such as free diving, spearfishing and submerged hockey.

However, the nomination of new Olympic sports has become something of a sideshow in Tokyo after several damaging scandals.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered plans for Tokyo's Olympic stadium to be scrapped amid public anger over its $2 billion price tag, while Games organisers were forced to ditch their original emblem after accusations of plagiarism.

But those controversies were overshadowed after French prosecutors launched an investigation into payments of $2 million by Tokyo Olympic organisers into a Singapore bank account, with the money said to have been given to the son of disgraced former athletics chief Lamine Diack as an alleged bribe.

Tokyo officials are cooperating with French investigators, though they have denied the allegations and are also conducting their own probe. Diack has also denied receiving any money.

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