The president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation Ricardo Fraccari at press conference in Tokyo on Friday.
World baseball chief plays down Fukushima Olympic fears
The president of world baseball’s governing body on Friday played down fears that the sport’s top stars will refuse to play in Fukushima if the nuclear disaster-hit prefecture hosts games at the 2020 Olympics.
Olympic chiefs are currently considering a proposal to play part of the Tokyo 2020 baseball and softball competition in Fukushima Prefecture, which in 2011 suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years when the Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The prefecture successfully hosted games at the Under-15 Baseball World Cup in the city of Iwaki this summer, and World Baseball Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fraccari believes senior teams will not be deterred from playing there in 2020 should its bid to host games be accepted.
“This can be an issue, but from the data I received, the situation at this moment is not dangerous in Fukushima,” said Fraccari, who held talks with Tokyo 2020 organizers in Tokyo on Friday and will visit the prefecture on Saturday to inspect potential venues.
“Even at the last Under-15 World Cup, only one country refused to come. But the rest were there. In three years — just now the situation is good, so I think from this point there won’t be any problem for countries to come to Fukushima.”
Fraccari must give his consent to the prefecture’s bid before it can be put before the International Olympic Committee, which will make a final decision when it holds its executive board meeting from Dec. 6 to 8.
Three venues in the prefecture are under consideration — Iwaki Green Stadium in Iwaki, Azuma Baseball Stadium of the city of Fukushima and Koriyama Kaiseizan Baseball Stadium in Koriyama.
“From the perspective of the WBSC, I know the importance of baseball and softball in Japan, and I know how we can facilitate the recovery from the disaster,” said Italian Fraccari. “If the field in Fukushima has all the requirements, we can take it into consideration and analyze internally the possibility.
“But I repeat, we have to check many things because we have to see how it’s possible to include it in the schedule, the distance, the fields. There are many issues and we won’t take any decision yet.”
Baseball and softball were voted onto the 2020 program as a joint bid after an absence of 12 years at an IOC session in Rio de Janeiro in August ahead of the Summer Games. The format of the competitions has yet to be decided.
Nippon Professional Baseball has agreed to suspend play for the duration of the July 24 to Aug. 9 Tokyo Olympics, but Major League Baseball has yet to say whether it will cooperate.
“There is, even from the major leagues, a desire to be more international,” said Fraccari. “Now we are discussing, but before we discuss we need to have the details of the tournament, the details of the schedule. I think that we can find a solution to have the best games possible.”
Fraccari also played down suggestions that pressure to agree to Fukushima’s proposal, which was floated by IOC President Thomas Bach during a visit to Tokyo last month, will affect his decision.
“I used to be an umpire, so I know what it means to be under pressure,” he said.
Olympics: No decision yet as world baseball-softball chief inspects Fukushima
World Baseball Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fraccari stopped short of issuing a verdict after inspecting Fukushima Prefecture as a potential host site of the 2020 Olympic baseball and softball competitions Saturday.
Fraccari scouted Azuma Stadium in Fukushima City and Koriyama’s Kaiseizan Stadium but insisted the purpose of his visit this time was to gather intelligence and not to reach a decision of any kind. The third city being considered is Iwaki, whose Green Stadium Fraccari has already visited.
“At the moment, I’m just collecting information of the stadiums,” said Fraccari, who met Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori ahead of his stadium tours.
“The problem for Fukushima is not just the stadium. We have to check about the transportation, the facility for the teams and the schedule.”
The 2020 organizing committee is looking to open the baseball and softball tournaments in the prefecture, with Japan set to play in the first game of both competitions.
Fraccari did not mention a deadline on when the competition format and the overall schedule would be made, but did say all the stakeholders would have to work fast, with the organizing committee aiming to finalize details at the Dec. 6-8 executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee.
“Yesterday, it was a good meeting with Tokyo 2020,” he said. “We work very close with them, we cooperate a lot because both of us have the best interests in the Games in 2020.”
“We have to work very fast because we don’t have too much time. We don’t yet have a fixed deadline, for sure but we have to work very, very soon towards the entire Games (plan).”
Uchibori reiterated Fukushima’s willingness to stage the two sports.
“We want to express our strong desire to organize the events in Fukushima Prefecture,” Uchibori said to Fraccari in his native Italian.
“It will help unite the people of Fukushima, and help unite the prefecture and the world. They’re fantastic sports.”
Uchibori reassured Fraccari that the radiation levels in Fukushima, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and the nuclear power plant crisis that followed, are no different to that of major cities around the world.
“In almost all areas in the prefecture, the figures are the same as any of the world’s major cities,” Uchibori said.