by Paresh Dave | Reuters
Fukushima, Japan – Japanese pitcher Yukiko Uno on Wednesday postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, firing a fastball from the plate to start a softball game against Australia amid a sea of empty blue and orange seats ringing the field .
The sporting spectacle has continued as the Olympics and Japanese authorities continue to host more than 11,000 athletes and accompanying staff and media amid rising COVID-19 infections.
Two more softball games as well as the first six women’s football matches are scheduled for later Wednesday. The opening ceremony is on Friday.
Coaches from six softball participating nations on Tuesday lauded organizers for creating a safe environment and said their players were particularly appreciative of the Olympics not being cancelled.
After 2008 the Olympics abandoned softball as a sport. But it was revived for these games in Japan, where an estimated 400,000 people play the century-old game here. It won’t return until at least 2028.
Japan is seeking its second consecutive gold and its fourth straight medal, with the United States as its top rival. Australia are seeking their fifth medal on the same number of occasions but their first gold.
The first two days of games are being held at Baseball Stadium at the foot of the Green Hills in Fukushima, a region badly hit by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Since the 2008 Olympics in China, a softball-specific venue, a temporary fencing in an outfield and an electronically reduced pitching mound for games in Fukushima have attracted hatred from fans. But the coaches described the field as excellent and said they were grateful for Fukushima’s turnaround.
While spectators have been banned, stadiums, including one in Fukushima, are accompanied by young peach trees and other plants with messages from local children urging athletes to “go to sleep”.