National / Politics

Government changes its tune on Olympic stadium design amid soaring costs

Kyodo

The government has begun considering revising its contentious plan for the construction of the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in response to public criticism over its soaring cost, a government source said Wednesday.

The government will consider changing the stadium’s design or extending the construction period as a way to cut costs, the source said.

Either way, it could be difficult to use the new stadium for matches of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, which will kick off in the fall of 2019.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last Friday in the Diet that if the stadium’s design is changed, “there would be a high probability that we can’t make it for the Olympics.”

But the government later leaned toward changing the current construction plan, as sticking to it despite mounting public criticism could have detrimental consequences for the Abe administration, which is already under pressure for pushing through unpopular security bills.

The government is expected to make a final decision by the International Olympic Committee’s general meeting later this month, the source said.

The current design, conceived by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, features two gigantic arches over the stadium. But its cost has swollen to ¥252 billion ($2 billion) from an initially estimated ¥162.5 billion, drawing criticism not only from opposition lawmakers but some in the ruling camp and sporting world.

Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, pointed to the possibility of changing the current construction plan.

“Are there any ways to save costs? If we cut the budget, some changes would be necessary, of course,” Nikai said during the recording of a TV program.

“There are plenty of things to consider as (a member of) the Diet that was given a public mandate,” he said.

However, organizers of Rugby World Cup 2019 are hopeful that the stadium will be ready in time.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event Wednesday marking the official kick off of the rugby tournament, Akira Shimazu, chief executive officer of the local organizing committee, said: “We believe the stadium will be built in time.”

He pointed out the first game of the tournament may not be the first event in the new arena. “We need to hold rehearsals and test events. We need the stadium to be constructed by May (2019) at the latest,” he said.