Japan rips up 2020 Olympic stadium plans to start anew

July 18, 2015

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Tokyo: A rendering model of the new National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, is displayed at a meeting of members of the advisory council on the construction of the new stadium.—Reuters
Tokyo: A rendering model of the new National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, is displayed at a meeting of members of the advisory council on the construction of the new stadium.—Reuters

TOKYO: Japan scrapped the design of the Olympic stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Games because of soaring costs on Friday and said it will reopen bidding for a new plan, in a stunning reversal that leaves the 2019 Rugby World Cup without a main venue.

“We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan, and start over from zero,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters after a meeting with Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee. “The cost has ballooned just too much.”

The government has been under mounting criticism as the estimated cost of the new National Stadium rose to 252 billion yen ($2 billion), nearly twice as much as the initial estimate of 130 billion yen.

Abe said he secured the consent of Mori, a former prime minister, and instructed the sports and Olympics ministers to immediately prepare a process to choose a new stadium plan.

“I have been listening to the voices of the people and the athletes for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review,” Abe said. “We will minimise the cost as much as we can and make one that is best and realistic.”

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee said it respected Abe’s decision, but “we would like to ensure that the construction of the stadium is completed in time for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The committee said it will work closely with the government to make sure the review does not “adversely affect” the event.

The huge cost of the stadium went against the International Olympic Committee’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform programme, which seeks to make the games less expensive and ensure long-term use of venues.

John Coates, head of the IOC coordination commission for the Tokyo Games, said the Japanese government was in the position to decide on the project.

“We take note of the decision by Prime Minister Abe to review the design plan and to look for a feasible solution that will offer a state of the art stadium with top level conditions for athletes and spectators,” Coates said in an IOC statement.

“We understand that the review of the stadium will not affect its delivery for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we will work with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to ensure that what is needed for the games is delivered in the revised plan.”

Abe said the stadium won’t be completed in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the first in Asia.

The new 80,000-seat stadium had been scheduled to serve as the showpiece venue for the rugby tournament, hosting the opening game, semi-finals and final.

World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body, said it was “extremely disappointed” because Japan has repeatedly assured the stadium would be ready for 2019.

The organisation is seeking detailed clarification from the Japanese organizing committee and will consider the options of the impact of Friday’s announcement.

The leading candidate for an alternate main venue is the 72,000-seat International Stadium in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. The stadium, which hosted the 2002 football World Cup final, was one of 11 other venues selected for the 2019 tournament.

For weeks, the public line of Abe and other government officials has been that they would stick with the stadium designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid.

Hadid’s office blamed soaring construction costs in Tokyo and a tight deadline.

“It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors, and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council,” Jim Heverin, project director of Zaha Hadid Architects, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

“The real challenge for the stadium has been agreeing an acceptable construction cost against the backdrop of steep annual increases in construction costs in Tokyo and a fixed deadline,” he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said the contract with Hadid would be cancelled, and a new international competition would be completed within six months. A new project and its estimated cost will then be announced.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2015

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