Fukushima, the prefecture that was hit by a tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster in March 2011, has been approved to host baseball and softball matches in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Games, organizers said on Friday.
With baseball one of the most popular sports in Japan, the decision for Fukushima to host at least one baseball game underscores Japan’s larger efforts to support the region’s recovery, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said.
“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,” Mr. Mori said in a statement after the International Olympic Committee Executive Board gave a green light to the plan.
The announcement came less than a week after March 11 marked the sixth anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the Daiichi nuclear plant's triple meltdown. The disaster, which displaced thousands of people, was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. While concerns over radiation remain, Japan has looked to the 2020 Olympic Games as a way to boost its economy and tourism.
“The 2020 Games will serve as a spiritual and physical symbol of Japan's recovery from a national tragedy,” the Tokyo games' Organizing Committee said in a statement.
Although the Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima will only be a secondary venue, in addition to the primary baseball site at the Yokohama Stadium in Kanagawa prefecture, the stadium will be renovated and is expected to continue serving teams and their fans in coming years.
The news comes on the same day as a district court near Tokyo found the government liable for the nuclear accident for the first time. The ruling by the Maebashi District Court said state negligence had contributed to the accident.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power], and the lack of governance by said parties,” the report said, according to The Guardian.
The court also awarded 38.55 million yen (about $340,000) to 137 people who were forced to evacuate their homes following the accident. While officials claim that the extent of the earthquake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the plaintiffs based their claims on a 2002 report that estimated a 20 percent chance for a magnitude 8 quake to occur and to trigger a tsunami within the next 30 years.
Although the Japanese government planned to lift some evacuation orders in some parts of Fukushima later this month, few might actually move back: In a government survey last year, more than half of Fukushima’s former residents said they wouldn’t return, The New York Times reported.
While it might be difficult to picture hosting games in Fukushima at this time, the World Baseball Softball Confederation president Riccardo Fraccari is optimistic about the plan.
"It is a tremendous honour and a duty we take very seriously to be a part of something so meaningful – to serve the Olympic Movement and to use the power of sport to shape a better world," he said in a statement.