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Fukushima to host 2020 Olympic baseball and softball

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image copyrightAP
image captionBaseball has a long history in Japan, arriving in the late 19th Century

Olympic baseball matches will be held in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, an area devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima city will host at least one baseball and one softball match, Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said on Friday.

The city is about 100km (62 miles) from the nuclear plant hit by the tsunami, that caused a triple meltdown.

It was the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Fukushima has suffered lasting stigma since the disaster, with many shunning produce from the region over fears of nuclear contamination.

image copyrightTEPCO
image captionSix years on, the plant's operators are still struggling to deal with its stricken reactor

The move to hold matches in the prefecture will help boost the region, Mr Mori said.

"Tokyo 2020 is a showcase for the recovery and reconstruction of Japan from the disaster of March 2011, so in many ways we would like to give encouragement to the people, especially in the affected area."

He added that the baseball match was likely to be the first of the 2020 Games, hosting the sport for the first time since 2008. Baseball is Japan's most popular sport.

The former prime minister was speaking on the sidelines of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board meeting in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is the host of the 2018 Winter Games.

image copyrightAFP
image captionOn Wednesday Japan beat Israel to reach the championship round of the WBC

The decision was welcomed by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, which called it a "tremendous honour and a duty" in a statement distributed by Tokyo 2020 officials.

Despite extensive decontamination work, a few areas of Fukushima prefecture are still off-limits to the public.

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