The stadium, about 45 miles north west of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, will host at least one baseball game – possibly the opening match – and one or more softball fixtures, according to Yoshiro Mori, the 2020 Tokyo Organising Committee President.
The bulk of the baseball and softball games at the Olympics will be played, as previously announced, in Yokohama.
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. It will also be a wonderful chance for us to show our gratitude towards those who assisted in the region’s reconstruction. And I’m sure the people of Fukushima are also looking forward very much to seeing Olympics events hosted there.”
The idea to hold baseball and softball matches in the affected area originated in a meeting between Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October last year.
Two months later, however, the IOC initially declined to add Azuma as a baseball and softball venue. But then came a change of mind.
Riccardo Fraccari, President of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, welcomed the decision, describing it as a “great step” that would “inspire hope and highlight the regeneration in Fukushima”.
Fraccari added: “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.”
The Fukushima prefectural government has offered to cover the costs of the refurbishment and renovation work needed to bring the 30,000-seat stadium up to Olympic standards.
No evacuation order has ever been in place for the part of Fukushima prefecture where the baseball stadium is located. Instead, the Azuma sports park complex served as an evacuation centre for people fleeing radiation caused by the triple meltdown at thenuclear power plant triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.
Nuclear power officials in Japan insist the 40-year effort to decommission Fukushima Daiichi, including the storage of nuclear waste, will not affect people visiting the region to attend Olympics events.