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The media is still very positive about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but its ardor has cooled significantly with regard to the way the central government is holding up its end of the bargain.

When Tokyo was selected by the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe personally shilled for the capital and promised to do exactly what the bid committee had told the IOC it would. Some of the ideas that swayed the world body, such as keeping the games “compact,” have been subsequently altered or diluted, mainly due to cost concerns, and if these changes have been accepted, it’s because it’s natural to assume that the committee exaggerated Tokyo’s capabilities in its campaign. Everybody lies a little in these situations.

The press has been less forgiving of the way various public functions have handled the matter of the new National Stadium. In an editorial, Asahi Shimbun bluntly characterized the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s management of the issue as “nothing short of miserable.” This reaction gives rise to the question of why the media wasn’t probing the matter back when it could have made a difference, since, by all appearances, they knew there were problems from the start.

The incident that sparked Asahi’s derision was the May 18 meeting between Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura and Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe in the Tokyo prefectural government offices. Masuzoe was reportedly concerned about the ministry’s “request” that Tokyo pay ¥50 billion toward construction of the new stadium to replace the old one in the Jingumae district, even though as a national venue it is the responsibility of the central government. Masuzoe asked the assembled reporters to remain for the entirety of the meeting. Usually, the press shows up, gets statements from the principals, and withdraws until the meeting is finished.

If the purpose was to expose the minister’s poor understanding of his responsibilities, then it worked. What the press got was an argument about who said what when, and afterward both men were angry — Masuzoe about the lack of progress and Shimomura about the governor’s lack of understanding.

But in order to comprehend how the dialogue arrived at this stalemate you have to go back to Naoki Inose, the governor when Tokyo was selected. The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun recently pointed out that it had discussed the matter with Inose in the fall of 2013, and he said that Shimomura once asked him “in conversation … to bear ¥50 billion for the stadium.” At the time, Inose thought that maybe Tokyo should pay for related work around the venue, “such as infrastructure improvement that would benefit Tokyoites,” but he never received a detailed plan from the central government, so he didn’t know how the ¥50 billion sum figured into the scheme.

In a May 26 article, Tokyo Shimbun reports that Shimomura and Inose met in November 2013 to discuss Tokyo’s contribution. Details of the meeting were never revealed, but in any case Inose resigned a month later due to a money scandal. The same day he quit, Shimomura held a press conference where he explained that Tokyo had “promised” to bear part of the cost. When reporters asked him how much, he said he had talked to members of the Tokyo assembly and “unofficially” received their agreement to pay ¥50 billion.

Inose’s successor says he had never heard this number until recently, and was not approached to pay it until the May 18 meeting.

“I checked all related documents,” Masuzoe told the Tokyo Shimbun, “and I can’t find any indication that an agreement was made.”

In fact, during the meeting itself there was no mention of a specific sum. All Shimomura did was ask Masuzoe to please pay the amount “discussed earlier.” To make matters more confusing, the education ministry claims that Masuzoe was the person who came up with the ¥50 billion figure.

The problem, as it was when Inose was governor, is that Shimomura hasn’t stated what this money is for. Masuzoe told Bunshun that he “doesn’t mind cooperating,” but the central government has to explain “exactly how much they need and how long (construction) is going to take.” As he points out, the ministry has never built anything this big before.

It’s obvious Shimomura doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Bunshun speculates that he’s been distracted in recent months by his own political funds scandal. Complicating the situation is the fact that the stadium will also be used for the Rugby World Cup in 2019, which means there is even less time to complete it. So while many of the changes proposed by the ministry and the Japan Sports Council, which oversees construction, are being made to reduce costs — postponing the retractable roof installation until after the Olympics and making 15,000 of the stadium’s seats removable — it will be impossible to complete the original stadium design in time for the RWC, even if they started tomorrow.

The ministry’s desperation is coming to a head. In addition to poking Tokyo for money it is thinking of expanding the sports lottery system to cover baseball in order to raise funds for the new structure. Such a scheme would require approval by the players union, not to mention a change in the law, since right now only 5 percent of Toto soccer lottery revenues can be earmarked for construction. The ministry wants to increase it to 10 percent.

But in the end, the public is going to pay something for the stadium, whose already reduced price tag of ¥162.5 billion is, according to the Asahi, “unrealistic,” meaning it’s sure to be more. A majority of citizens still support hosting the games, but they had no say on whether or not they thought Japan needed a new national stadium, which will cost ¥3.5 billion a year to maintain, or what it would look like once the JSC determined a new venue was needed. And it definitely sounds as if they could use all the help they can get.

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