Reuters –  Baseball and softball officially applied for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Thursday as they look to earn back their spot in the Games they lost after 2008.

The two sports, united under the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) to boost their chances of an Olympic return, are seen as strong contenders for a place on the Tokyo Games program with Japan one of the countries where the sports enjoying a massive following.

As part of the reforms initiated by the International Olympic Committee last year Games hosts have the chance to bring in one or more sports popular in their country to boost ratings and attract greater sponsorship while also ensuring capacity crowds.

Baseball and softball last featured at the Games in Beijing in 2008 before being taken off the program.

A special Tokyo 2020 panel will evaluate the proposals submitted and will announce a shortlist of sports on June 22, the WBSC said.

"Adding baseball and softball – a major global team sport and highly popular in Japan – can help further position the Olympic Games as the center of the sporting and cultural universe," WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said in a statement.

In January, billiards and snooker launched a surprise move to take part in the Tokyo Games while karate is also thought to be a strong contender for inclusion.