Staff writer

More than a year after it was decided that Japan and South Korea would cohost the 2002 World Cup, preparations for the event are creating a chasm between residents and the government in Oita Prefecture.

Many residents initially embraced the selection of Oita City as one of Japan’s 10 World Cup sites, but some have since changed their tune and are at loggerheads with the prefectural government over the plan to construct a retractable dome and sports park. “At first, everyone was excited” about winning the right to host the matches, said Hiroshi Yukino, a member of a civic group protesting the construction.

But the euphoria gradually dissipated, leaving residents like Yukino wondering if the sacrifices being made to host the event might overshadow the benefits. To host the games, the prefecture decided to build a 255-hectare sports park on a small wooded hill overlooking Oita City. The park will feature a retractable dome stadium capable of seating 43,000 and other facilities will be added in the future.

The cost has been estimated at 58 billion yen, but the prefectural government says the project will boost the economy by 65 billion yen and attract other international events. However, some locals fear the prefecture is writing checks it cannot cover and is not adequately considering the impact the construction will have on the environment. “If we build this extravagant sports stadium, it will probably enlarge the prefecture’s debt,” said Mitsuo Kawano of the Association to Preserve Oita Prefecture’s Cultural Artifacts.

The prefecture’s outstanding debt for 1996 is estimated at 711.3 billion yen, more than the prefecture’s budget, Kawano said. Estimates indicate that additional construction to prepare for the 2008 national athletic meet slated for Oita Prefecture will push total expenditures over 100 billion yen, Kawano added.

Fiscal concerns led the neighboring town of Hazama to pass a bill requesting that the governor review the stadium plan and the financial burden placed on municipalities, and work toward an environmentally friendly solution. Other municipalities were planning to follow suit, but pressure from the prefectural government dissuaded them, Kawano said.

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