An Olympic-Sized Battle: Who’s Paying for Tokyo’s 2020 Stadium?

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New Olympic Stadium
Source: Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee via Bloomberg

Whoever Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picks to oversee the 2020 summer Olympics is already facing a titanic clash over funding for a $1.4-billion stadium.

The Japanese Diet passed a law Wednesday allowing Abe to bolster his cabinet and appoint a minister to prepare Tokyo for its first Olympics since 1964. Any nominee will be plunged into a ruckus with Tokyo’s governor over how much the wealthy capital should contribute to help the debt-ridden Japanese government pay for a new national stadium.

Tokyo was selected in 2013 to host the Games with a bid that said the budget was guaranteed and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had already set aside sufficient reserves. The Games were championed by Abe, who’s looking for any way to break a pattern of stagnation in the world’s third-largest economy.

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe has since balked at paying for the centerpiece stadium after cost estimates ballooned to as much as 300 billion yen ($2.4 billion), from an initial figure of 130 billion yen. The latest estimates put the cost at about 169 billion yen, or about $1.4 billion, after some facilities were trimmed.

Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who has until now been Abe’s point person for the Games, wants a 50 billion yen contribution from Tokyo, according to Masuzoe. The governor in a May 26 column for the Gendai Business website called the Education Ministry “useless and irresponsible” and said he wouldn’t comply with the request without more details.

Changing Plans

“Will the building actually be ready in time? Will it have a roof? Will 169.2 billion yen be enough?” Masuzoe wrote in an earlier column. “There are all sorts of doubts.”

Shimomura told reporters last week that several factors including the rising costs of materials and labor, a consumption tax increase and negotiations with contractors over the quality of materials had driven up projections and caused delays. He said fresh details and cost estimates for the stadium would be released by the end of next month.

Toshiaki Endo, a former junior minister in the Education Ministry, will probably be appointed to the new Olympic post in June, Jiji Press reported Wednesday.

Japanese architects and conservationists have said the 80,000-seat stadium -- designed by award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid -- would be too big for its surroundings in an historic area of central Tokyo. Such opposition failed to prevent the demolition earlier this year of the stadium that served as the main venue for the 1964 Games.

Balancing Books

“I opposed the stadium,” said Taro Kono, who heads a ruling Liberal Democratic Party panel charged with balancing the budget. “I don’t think we need it. We have enough stadiums.” Tokyo should not fork over the requested 50 billion yen, he added.

Shimomura said last week that he wants to make some of the seats temporary, and that plans for a retractable roof might have to be dropped to get it ready for a warm-up performance in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“We need to stop this obscure and corrupt process whereby things are decided among an inner circle of people in the sports world,” Masuzoe said in his May 26 column. “We need to involve the public, hold a debate and reach a public consensus.”

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