Japan U-turn on World Classic boycott

Two-time champions Japan said Tuesday they would defend their World Baseball Classic (WBC) title next year, reversing an earlier decision to boycott the premier international event over a revenue-sharing row.

"All the players decided today to withdraw our resolution to stay away from the WBC," Takahiro Arai, head of Japan's national union of professional baseball players, told a news conference in Osaka.

"I believe they were not wrong from the viewpoint of the future of Japanese baseball," he said after the Japan Professional Baseball Players' Association made the decision at a meeting in the city. "I feel very proud of them."

He said some concessions had been made over the way sponsorship and licensing revenues are handled by tournament organisers WBC Inc.

Japan, nicknamed Samurai, won the inaugural 2006 edition of the tournament, which was created by US Major League Baseball (MLB) and intended to emulate the success of football's World Cup and globalise the sport.

They retained the title in 2009, the next time the contest was held.

But the union of players from Japan's 12 professional clubs resolved on July 20 to boycott the third WBC edition. The final of the tournament is scheduled for March 2013 in San Francisco.

They had demanded that Japan control all the sponsorship and licensing revenues generated by their participation in the tournament. Currently, all sponsorship and licensing revenues are pooled and distributed by the MLB-affiliated WBC Inc.

The 2009 WBC edition raked in a profit of about $18 million, about 60 percent of which reportedly came from Japanese corporate sponsors, the union said.

Of the total, 13 percent was distributed to Japanese players while 66 percent went to MLB and its players association.

But Arai said that WBC Inc. had recently assured Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), which governs the country's professional game, that certain WBC sponsorship and licensing rights would remain in Japan.

"MLB has in general recognised the licensing scheme in Japan," he said.

The players' union said in a statement that it had been confirmed that NPB has the right to solicit sponsors for the national team and produce merchandise featuring the national team during the WBC tournament.

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, who guided Japan to the 2009 championship, welcomed the players' decision to take part in the WBC.

"Many things have happened just because it is a very young tournament. It was meaningful that the players created a stir," he said.

Sadaharu Oh, Japan's manager in the inaugural tournament and their all-time home-run king, said: "I'm happy that their challenge to the world will go on."

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