TOKYO (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday and suggested staging some events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the northeastern region of Japan hit by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Bach said the International Olympic Committee is considering holding some of the baseball and softball games in the affected areas as "one of the options."
Fukushima is reportedly a strong candidate. Baseball and softball were dropped from the Olympics after Beijing 2008 but are among five sports added to the program for the 2020 Games. Both are very popular in Japan and an event in the disaster-affected areas could send a powerful message of reconstruction.
Bach said Abe welcomed his proposal.
"We discussed ... the idea of the IOC to have some events of the Olympic games of Tokyo 2020 in the disaster-affected areas, to contribute to the regeneration of the area, to show the world by 2020 how this regeneration is making progress, " Bach said.
"Baseball and softball are one of the options under discussion given the great popularity of the sport here in Japan," he told reporters. "So an inaugural match for baseball with the participation of the Japanese team, I think, could be a very powerful message."
The primary venue for baseball and softball is expected to be the Yokohama Stadium.
Bach is in Japan amid tension between Olympic organizers and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who is pushing to cut costs. A Tokyo government panel set up by Koike said the cost of the Olympics could exceed $30 billion — four times the initial estimate — unless drastic cuts are made.
The city panel also proposed moving three sports from planned new venues to existing ones — including relocating rowing to a site hundreds of miles outside the capital.
The IOC has suggested the possibility of moving rowing to an existing site in South Korea in case there is no resolution over the Japanese venue, the Asahi newspaper reported, quoting unidentified Japanese sources as saying. The South Korean venue in Chungiu City hosted the 2013 world championships and rowing at the 2014 Asian Games.
Speaking at Tokyo 2020 headquarters, Bach did not address reports of the rowing and canoe sprint events possibly being moved to South Korea.
Earlier, Bach rejected calls to expand four-party talks aimed at reducing the costs of the Tokyo Games.
Bach said negotiations between the IOC, Tokyo organizers, the city government and Japan's central government should result in cost reductions.
Koike had suggested including international and national sports federations in the four-party talks but Bach said the makeup of the group has been agreed on.
"We have an agreement about this four-partite working group," Bach said. "And this was very well perceived by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and by the governor, and we will follow this agreement we had yesterday."