Back at the Olympics after a 12-year absence, softball is expected to be one of the highlights of the Olympic programme, with the United States hoping to regain the crown they lost in Beijing against Japan.
We will show you the rules and highlights of softball in one minute. Whether you are familiar with softball or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.
Softball is thought to have begun in the USA as an indoor version of baseball, so the latter could continue to be played during the off-season. The rules of both sports are very similar in terms of gameplay, with two teams of nine players seeking to score the most ‘runs’ by striking a ball and running round a sequence of bases to reach home. The teams alternate between batting and fielding, with each session called an ‘inning’, switching roles when the fielding team gets three opposing players out.
The team with the most runs after nine innings of alternate batting and fielding wins. If the teams are tied after seven innings, the game goes into a tie-breaker with adapted rules to accelerate scoring and provide a quick finish.
Softball was introduced as an Olympic medal sport for women only at Atlanta 1996. The sport was contested until 2008, then removed from the programme.
An invitation by the International Olympic Committee for the host country to propose the temporary inclusion of additional events saw the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee propose both women's softball and men's baseball.
The competition will be run by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the world governing body established in 2013 by the merger of the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation.
Eyes on the ball
Softball differs from baseball in that it uses a smaller playing area, with a shorter distance between pitcher and batter. In addition, the ball is larger and less dense, and the bat no longer than 34 inches (86.4cm) compared to 42 inches (106.7cm).
Softball's other key difference is the requirement that pitches be thrown underhand with the ball released while the wrist is passing the side of the body. The windmill pitch, in which the arm traces a large circle to employ centrifugal force as a means of imparting speed to the ball, is the most popular pitching technique.
Top female players can achieve speeds in excess of 100km/h. Due to the shorter distance between pitcher and batter, this is considered to rival a baseball pitch of about 150km/h in terms of perceived speed.
As with baseball, the battle of wits between pitcher and batter is a feature of the game as the pitcher serves up different balls including the riseball, which uses backspin to give the impression of rising as it moves towards the batter, and the drop pitch, which sinks as it approaches the batter.
Making a pitch for medals
Due to softball's deep roots and popularity as a recreational sport, the USA has a wellspring of players from which it can draw. The American team has dominated Olympic Softball, winning gold at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
However, this 22-match winning run ended in the final at Beijing 2008, when Japan won 3-1 in what was considered one of the Games' biggest upsets — not least because Japan had previously lost to the USA in both the preliminary round and the medal round.
At Tokyo 2020, just six teams will compete, leaving little room for error in the quest for a medal. USA will be clear favourites but Japan will base its challenge on an impregnable defense and blazing-fast pitching. A thrilling competition will help Softball attract further attention and grow in popularity worldwide.
Because the distance between bases is shorter in softball than baseball, there are many close plays at first base. The double-base was created to avoid accidents caused by contact between the runner and the baseman. The base sits astride the first base line with the white base on the fair side and the orange base on the foul side.