French sports minister visits Fukushima, hopes Olympics help rehab

French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu visited Fukushima Prefecture on Sept. 23, touring such places as the prefectural government-run Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima city, the venue of some games of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics baseball and softball competitions, and Futaba Future Junior High and High schools in Hirono town. Welcomed by Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori and other people upon her arrival at the stadium, Maracineanu was briefed by a prefecture official on the schedule of baseball and softball games, stadium improvements -- such as the laying of artificial turf -- and the significance of holding the games in Fukushima. Uchibori presented the sports minister with a handkerchief made of Kawamata silk from the town of Kawamata in the prefecture. Maracineanu said sports are the best way to strengthen unity for reconstruction and ties between countries, expressing hope that the games will attract many people and contribute to recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The minister also said she wants to see French children as well as national teams play at the stadium in the near future. The minister was in Japan for the Rugby World Cup. She came to Fukushima Prefecture to see how sports are helping reconstruction. Those accompanying the minister included French Ambassador to Japan Laurent Pic and sports ambassador Laurence Fischer. At Futaba Future High School, the French delegation met two girls from the school's badminton team. They encouraged them to set their sights on playing on the international stage, including the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 【Photo】French sports minister Maracineanu (front R) and Fukushima Gov. Uchibori (front L) visit the prefectural government-run Azuma Baseball Stadium. (Translated by Kyodo News)