(ATR) Students from the earthquake-hit region of Fukushima attended the Lausanne 2020 opening ceremony as guests of the IOC.
President Thomas Bach says that the students, who suffered immensely, will inspire the nearly 1,900 teenage winter sports athletes competing in Switzerland and France over the coming 13 days.
Bach met with the group of Japanese students at his office on Thursday prior to the opening ceremony.
"It is the second group of these students that are visiting us following my visit to Fukushima at the time where I met with a very impressive group of students," Bach said at a press conference in Lausanne.
"With this invitation and the invitation to attend at least one game of baseball and softball in Fukushima, we wanted to show our appreciation for their human strength and the motivation they are giving to young people in Japan and beyond."
Bach visited the recovery zone in Fukushima last November along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He met young athletes, toured 2020 venues and witnessed the progress of reconstruction. While there, he met the Fukushima students whom he welcomed Thursday to IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
Bach said the invitation of the Japanese students to the Lausanne YOG is in line with the IOC inviting the Thai youth soccer team trapped in a cave for nearly 10 days, to the Buenos Aires YOG in September 2018.
"These young people are showing the Olympic values," the IOC president said. "This is persistence, believing in yourself and about encouraging your teammates and mates. So with this invitation we wanted to give encouragement to them, but also to show them to these young athletes as role models.
"These impressive young people are showing and demonstrating these Olympic values in much more difficult circumstances than athletes have to do," Bach said.
Bach said the Wild Boars football team was a huge inspiration to the Buenos Aires YOG athletes.
"It was very inspiring for both sides and I expect the same here with between these youngsters from Fukushima and the athletes here."
The young people are part of the "Support Our Kids" program in which the Swiss Embassy in Japan is involved. The program supports children affected by the 2011 disaster.
Homepage photo: IOC
Reported and written in Lausanne by Brian Pinelli.