Disaster-hit Fukushima to host baseball games at 2020 Olympics

John Coates (left), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President and Chairman of the IOC Cordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, answers questions beside Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, dur
John Coates (left), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President and Chairman of the IOC Cordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, answers questions beside Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, during a press conference.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's disaster-hit Fukushima prefecture will host some baseball and softball games at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, at a site about 70km from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.

The Tokyo organising committee said in a statement on Friday (March 17) that the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium would host the matches, adding that the events would support recovery efforts in the region devastated by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns.

"By hosting Olympic baseball and softball events, Fukushima will have a great platform to show the world the extent of its recovery in the 10 years since the disaster," Tokyo 2020 president and former prime minister Yoshiro Mori said in the statement.

World Baseball Softball Confederation president Riccardo Fraccari said the decision showed "the power of sport to shape a better world".

While a recent Yomiuri newspaper survey showed that 88 per cent of respondents approved of hosting events in the stricken region, not everyone is so enthusiastic.

More than half the heads of towns and villages in the three prefectures hit hardest by the 2011 disaster said that the concept of the Olympics being the "Reconstruction Games" is fading, according to a Mainichi newspaper poll.

Six years after the disaster, the region is still dealing with the stigma of the nuclear accident.

A "name-and-shame" show on Chinese state-run television this week accused retailer Ryohin Keikaku of concealing some food as being from Japanese areas from which imports were banned following the nuclear meltdowns.

But the Shanghai Daily reported on Friday that the local government had found no evidence the Muji store operator imported foods from the area.

The region will also host Olympic soccer games in the city of Sendai, about 100km south of the Dai-Ichi site.

The base of the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear plant is set to be returned to its original use as the training camp for the Japanese national soccer team.

The 2020 Games have been tainted by controversy, with Japan's initial jubilation over its winning bid fading amid a series of scandals.

A futuristic design for the flagship stadium was scrapped over soaring costs, and the logo was changed after accusations of plagiarism.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike won an election last year to become the city's first female governor with a promise to slash the cost of the event.

In December, organisers announced a budget of between US$15 billion (S$21 billion) and US$16.8 billion for the 2020 Games, backing the new governor's pledge to cut costs that had been projected to exceed 3 trillion yen (S$37.1 billion).