Competitions begin tomorrow in the city hit by the nuclear disaster 10 years ago, with softball. The site of the disaster has been chosen to redeem Japan's image. Pandemic and international rifts threaten to undermine what had been dubbed the "Recovery Olympics".
Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Most of the Olympic sports competitions will be held in the capital's prefecture, but the Japanese government has chosen Fukushima as a symbol of national rebirth. Tomorrow, before the opening ceremony on 23 July, the first official competition of the Games will be held in the city hit by the 2011 nuclear disaster: the home team and the Australian softball team will compete at 9 am. The Olympic flame set out from in Fukushima in March, on the tenth anniversary of the tsunami and atomic disaster that devastated Japan.
At 2.46 p.m. on 11 March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed by a tsunami, sent the Daiichi nuclear power plant into meltdown: the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, but also the second atomic disaster for Japan after the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. More than 36 million people still remain displaced. The catastrophe was followed by an economic collapse: China and South Korea blocked all imports from the Fukushima region. Yesterday, South Korea's Olympic delegation announced that it will have a separate kitchen for its athletes to check that the food is not radioactive.
The incident is part of a pattern of tension between Tokyo and Seoul: last week the Organising Committee of the Games had forced the South Korean delegation to remove banners referring to a war against the Japanese power of the 16th century, to which the Japanese extreme right had responded by waving the flags of Imperial Japan, which Koreans compare to the swastika. These clashes between neighbouring countries are taking place despite the IOC's decision to ban all protests by athletes.
The Daiichi nuclear reactor is located 50 km southeast of Azuma Stadium, which will host the first softball games and where the Red Hopes, coached by Akinori Iwamura, a former Major League Baseball player who moved to Fukushima after the 2011 disaster, usually play. "I asked myself if there was anything I could do to help. So I thought about using the power of baseball and I felt there was an opportunity in this team. We want people to come and watch a game and forget about stress; we want to put a smile back on their faces," the Japanese coach said in an interview with the BBC.
Along with the medal, the winning athletes will receive a bouquet of flowers grown in Fukushima. Yukari Shimizu grew the buds in her 20 greenhouses. "I want the flowers to send a message that it is possible to overcome difficulties, both in sport and in life," she told Kyodo News. Shimizu used to grow vegetables, but until the summer of 2013 the level of radiation in the vegetables was still too high to be marketed, so after the 2020 Olympics were awarded to Japan he wanted to play a role in reviving the image of Fukushima.
Even in Fukushima, the games will be held behind closed doors, corollary events have been cancelled and the population continues to oppose the event and disapprove of the government's efforts to limit the number of contagions, which have been increasing for weeks and have begun to spread even in the Olympic village.