Japan to Scrap $2 Billion Olympic Stadium Plan as Costs Soar

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National Olympic Stadium
Tokyo's new National Olympic Stadium stands in this handout illustration. Source: Japan Sport Council via Bloomberg

Japan will hold a new competition to select a design for the main Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium, abandoning a futuristic creation by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid after cost estimates ballooned.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo on Friday. “The costs ballooned far beyond the initial plan and there was a great deal of criticism from the Japanese people and athletes.”

Abe spoke after meeting former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, head of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee, and Hakubun Shimomura, the sports minister. Shimomura said a design would be chosen in about six months in a competition. Abe’s success in winning the hosting rights has been overshadowed by disputes over the current design’s cost, which soared to 252 billion yen ($2 billion) from an initial estimate of 163 billion yen.

Today’s announcement -- an about-face for Abe who last week said it was too late to change the design -- may help him assuage taxpayer anger over the price tag. It may also deflect attention from the unpopular security legislation that his party pushed through parliament’s lower house on Thursday.

“This announcement may be linked to the security bills, but I think it’s mostly outrage at the cost of the stadium,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus. “The numbers are so mindboggling that Abe’s got to do something or at least look like he is.”

A construction site for a new stadium to replace the National Olympic Stadium, center, is seen in this aerial photograph taken in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg
A construction site for a new stadium to replace the National Olympic Stadium, center, is seen in this aerial photograph taken in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Abe also said Japan would abandon plans to use the stadium for the 2019 Rugby World Cup because it wouldn’t be ready. Instead, organizers would consider using Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, which hosted the 2002 soccer World Cup final, the Asahi newspaper reported.

A poll conducted by the Asahi newspaper on July 11-12 showed that 71 percent of respondents were against building the stadium with the current design, while 18 percent were in favor. The government would aim to cut the cost of the stadium to about 180 billion yen, Kyodo News said, citing an unidentified government official.

Pritzker prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, who chaired the judging panel to select the design in 2012, told reporters yesterday that Japan would lose face if it changed its plans.

The stadium’s planned appearance has been widely mocked on social media, with Internet users circulating altered pictures imagining it as a bicycle helmet, a toilet seat and other items.

“It looks like an oyster,” Mori said on a TV show Thursday, according to Kyodo News. “I’ve always hated it.”

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