Abe apologizes for costly Olympics stadium fiasco, design rethink


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized publicly for squandering billions of yen in public funds on plans for the new National Stadium.

The government faces a bill for around ¥6.2 billion after Abe ordered the original plans to be torn up amid mounting public anger over the stadium’s cost.

“As a result of the decision to go back to the drawing board, precious public funds have been spent,” Abe told the Diet on Monday. “I apologize deeply to the people of Japan.”

Abe pulled the plug on Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s design for the main venue of the 2020 Olympics after the price tag ballooned to more than ¥250 billion.

That kind of money would have made it the most expensive sports stadium in the world.

Abe rejected opposition calls to sack education and sports minister Hakubun Shimomura over the scandal, saying, “We will fulfill our responsibilities by making sure the Olympics are a success.”

Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo heads a panel tasked with reviewing the stadium plan following the damaging scandal in which the bill for the showpiece venue nearly doubled, largely due to rising labor and material costs.

Hadid’s office denied the high cost of the stadium was due to the design.

To put the inflated price tag in context, London spent around $680 million on its 2012 Olympic stadium, while Beijing’s 2008 “Bird’s Nest” venue cost some $500 million. In dollar terms, Hadid’s stadium was to cost $2 billion.

The decision to ditch those plans meant organizers of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, also to be staged in Japan, must now find a new venue for the final — likely to be Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, which hosted the final of the 2002 soccer World Cup.

Construction had been set to begin in October and was going to be completed by May 2019, just in time for the rugby tournament.

As the row over financing the project escalated, senior officials sought to distance themselves from blame. The head of the Olympic organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, pointed at the education and sports ministry, with many calling for Shimomura’s resignation.

Meanwhile, Mori on Monday shot down accusations of plagiarism over the logo for the 2020 Summer Games, saying he is “confident” no changes will have to be made to the design.

“We’ve taken all the steps we’ve had to take without fail,” Mori said. “I think I can say this with absolute conviction, (and) we’re confident we will continue to use it.”

The logo by Kenjiro Sano, selected from 104 applicants, came under fire when Belgian designer Olivier Debie claimed it resembles the emblem he designed for a theater in Liege.

Debie is threatening legal action in a Belgian court against the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 if the logo is not retracted.

Sano last Wednesday refuted Debie’s charge, denying the design was stolen.

“The decision of the logo was taken by experts in the artistic field, and if there were issues of plagiarism it would have been identified during the decision-making process,” Mori said.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Abe apologizes for squandering billions of yen and officials running around to put the blame on others. Too bad nobody actually put any thought into this mess before Abe and others went to bring the games to Tokyo. Use the stadium in Yokohama for the Olympics, and turn the former stadium site into a wooded “Olympic Park.” It may not be the promised compact Olympics, but it will be cheaper and greener.