National

Tokyo comes to grips with reality of separate sites for Olympics

Kyodo

A little more than a year has gone by since Tokyo, to tremendous fanfare, won the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Despite the enthusiasm of delivering an Olympics billed as compact, organizers have since switched gears and left sports associations and salivating contractors in limbo with no resolution in sight.

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe’s announcement in June that he was considering revising the venue plans to nip cost overruns in the bud came as a bolt out of the blue to many national and international sporting federations.

“It is necessary to ascertain what legacies we can leave and how this will influence the daily lives of the citizens,” Masuzoe said after the bombshell announcement.

Tokyo, which beat Istanbul and Madrid to win the hosting rights in September 2013, formally abandoned plans to build new venues for badminton and basketball in November. This was decided after recalculations unsurprisingly determined that building the two facilities would cost nearly 2.5 times the amount stated at Tokyo’s candidature stage — or about ¥88 billion (about $731 million) more.

Badminton has been moved to the western suburb of Chofu, while the basketball venue has been shunted to Saitama Prefecture.

Both are more than 20 km from the athletes’ village in the Harumi district in Chuo Ward, breaking the 8-km radius the capital pitched in its “compact games” campaign.

The two national federations and the Badminton World Federation have stressed that the change will make it harder on the athletes. They have yet to agree to the venue changes.

The BWF questioned Tokyo’s organizers about its travel time revisions after viewing the proposed site in September but have yet to receive a response.

What’s more, the International Olympic Committee approved sweeping reforms in December in which it encourages the use of existing venues to lessen the burden on host cities.

Now that the games are already in the bag, Tokyo is more than willing to follow the IOC’s lead. The revisions allow Tokyo to lobby for additional events — including baseball and softball — at the two-week sports extravaganza.

“We are in agreement (with the IOC) on the direction we are headed,” said Tokyo organizing committee director Toshiro Muto.

But as with any Olympics, Tokyo faces myriad budgetary concerns and criticism as the project, including the giant futuristic Olympic stadium to replace the 1964 National Stadium, struggle to take flight.

Eminent architects, including 83-year-old Arata Isozaki, have blasted Zaha Hadid’s stadium design as a monstrosity of epic proportions, even after it was scaled down to meet budget cuts.

His analogy was poignant: “(A) dull, slow form, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away,” he wrote in a lengthy letter to the Japan Sports Council, the government body in charge of plans for the 2020 Games.

“If the stadium gets built the way it is, Tokyo will surely be burdened with a gigantic white elephant.”

Several architects have joined hands on a petition to oppose the project. They argue that the 80,000-seat, 70-meter-high edifice imagined by the London-based, Iraq-born Hadid, is grossly incongruous with its verdant surroundings, one of the city’s few expanses of greenery.

The group has proposed an alternative calling for the adaptation and reuse of the National Stadium, which is awaiting demolition scheduled to begin this month and end in late September.