Abe pulls plug on costly Olympic stadium plan


Staff Writer

To reduce the estimated construction cost of ¥252 billion and ease growing criticism, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that the new National Stadium to be built for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be redesigned from scratch.

This means Japan will renege on its promise to use the venue for the 2019 Rugby World Cup because the new stadium won’t be built in time, Abe said.

“I’ve decided to send the current plan for the new National Stadium . . . back to the drawing board,” he told reporters. “I made the decision today because I’m firmly convinced that (a new stadium) will be completed by the opening of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Abe apparently feared a backlash from angry voters. The estimated construction cost for the extravagant stadium was originally ¥130 billion, but then it suddenly soared to ¥252 billion.

The revised price, which came without any public explanation, is believed to have negatively affected public approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet in recent polls.

Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will finish drawing up a new plan for the stadium in fall, and it will include a cap on the total construction cost.

Kyodo News reported that the government will set a target below ¥200 billion. But a high-ranking official later said the government does not yet have a specific target.

Suga said the government will hold an international competition that combines the design and the construction, which he claimed will shorten the total process and make sure the stadium is ready for opening of the Olympics.

The design for the now-rejected design by British-based architect Zaha Hadid, featuring two gigantic keel arches supporting the roof, was chosen in 2012 through an international competition.

Pulling the plug now may damage Japan’s international reputation and put a question mark on its ability to manage numerous other Olympic-related projects.

“It is true that (Hadid’s design) was a key part of our campaign to attract the Olympic Games to Tokyo,” Suga told a news conference earlier Friday.

During a presentation at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in September 2013, Abe himself proudly said in English, “I can also say that, from a new stadium that will look like no other, to confirmed financing, Tokyo 2020 will offer guaranteed delivery.”

Abe made the announcement Friday after meeting with Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in the prime minister’s office.

Mori had promised to World Rugby, the international governing body of rugby unions, that Japan would build an entirely new stadium to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Mori was believed reluctant to give up the plan to host the rugby championship in the new National Stadium, but according to Abe, he endorsed the decision to scrap the Hadid design.

A senior official close to Abe had said earlier that he believes the stadium issue was having an even bigger impact on his approval ratings than the controversial security bills, which were passed by the Lower House on Thursday.

According to the latest poll by Jiji, conducted between July 10 and 13, the approval rate of the Abe Cabinet fell to an all-time low of 40.1 percent, down 5.7 percentage points from the previous month, while the disapproval rate surged to a new high of 39.5 percent, up 5.5 percentage points.

Abe, who has no powerful rivals within the Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to be smoothly re-elected as party president in an election scheduled to be held around Sept. 20.

Still, the recently declining approval rates in media polls could significantly weaken his administration, which has consistently boasted high public approval and looked set to remain in power for a long time.

Mizuho Aoki contributed to this story

  • Will Mac

    The way the Japanese have done this is totally cowardly. I’m sure ZH won’t mince her words

    • Steve Jackman

      Zaha Hadid is already on the record as having said, “They don’t want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium.” She was right.

    • zer0_0zor0

      In Saitama or Yokohama, maybe it would work; it was never a fit for that location.

      The issue is not so much the design as where they proposed to build it.

      • Steve Jackman

        Clearly, Japan’s Sports Council, made up of judges who are professional architects and headed by Tadao Ando disagree with you, since they selected Zaha Hadid’s design for THIS location in 2012 from among 46 submissions.

      • zer0_0zor0

        Well, obviously, they were wrong, including Mr. Ando–assuming his vote was for this particular stadium.

        That just brings the question back to why it was chosen in the first place.

  • Scott.park

    I think it’s a great decision especially when considering how much this stadiums costs have skyrocketed by the billions… Looking forward to seeing a new design.

    • Steve Jackman

      So, what does this say about the decision making process, including selection, planning, costing and due diligence at the highest levels in Japan? After all, Japan’s Sports Council, comprising of Japanese judges, selected Zaha Hadid from 46 submissions less than three years ago.

      Based on my experience, this is the same kind of incompetence one routinely finds within corporate Japan. It is something one would expect from some basket case babana republic. Is that what Japan has become?

      • Hendrix

        there is no due dilligence at the highest levels of Japan, just a cesspit of corruption , incompetence and an old boys club all on the make.. this olympic fiasco is a good reflection of how Japan is a lost case now..

      • Scott.park

        This may be true but unfortunately, corruption exists in every corner of the world these days not only in Japan. I don’t blame this decision on corruption. The Japanese people have spoken and fortunately, they have been heard, won’t be forced to pay extra taxes to make up for the extra costs of the stadium and there is a sense of optimism on the streets of Tokyo for the games. I believe, especially in this case, a Japanese team should have designed the “National Stadium” from the beginning.

    • Will Mac

      They will have to pay two high profile architects and many other fees twice. No way are they saving costs. Its purely political

  • GBR48

    “A senior official close to Abe had said earlier that he believes the stadium issue was having an even bigger impact on his approval ratings than the controversial security bills”

    I don’t recall seeing thousands of people out on the streets protesting about the stadium.

  • tisho

    I like how they almost completely changed the original plans that they used for the campaign to win the Olympics host in the first place.

  • Paul Mason

    They have bitten off more then they can chew. The site for this stadium is a closed in urban area. Transporting the materials there will be a huge task in itself.

  • Richard Solomon

    How ironic that Abe can reverse a decision about building a stadium out of concern for his approval ratings taking a hit when he cannot/will not reverse unpopular decisions on more important things like collective self defense, restarting nuclear plants, and/or the new military base in Okinawa. If only he’d show similar flexibility/sensitivity on these other things. But then that is too much to ask for!

    • Jameika

      This is, of course, why the stadium decision was announced, though, no?

      “Oh we hear the voices of the people…be satisfied with this stadium thing…don’t notice all this terribly frightening stuff we are doing because now we are ‘saving money’!”

  • Al_Martinez

    Future candidate cities for the Olympics have gotten the message loud and clear: if you want the Olympics, propose a fantastic fairytale. There’s nothing the IOC will do when you completely change it later.

    • Ahojanen

      Don’t be so cynical. Besides the IOC has already and publicly allowed changes.

      • Al_Martinez

        It’s hard not to be cynical watching this Tokyo Olympic farce.

        “Besides the IOC has already and publicly allowed changes.”

        Yeah, obviously. But my point remains: what the hell does the whole bidding process mean in the first place? Is this fair to Istanbul or Madrid who might have remained truer to the promises in their bid?

      • J.P. Bunny

        Cynicism is most called for. Japan spent who knows how much money to bid for the Olympics, with Delicate Hawk Abe himself playing the part of salesman. A specific plan was offered, which the IOC accepted. Japan has now changed the plans and the committee has gone along with it. Why bother going though the farce of submitting specific plans and getting selected because of those plans, if it doesn’t make any difference?

  • J.P. Bunny

    Whether the security bills go through or not, it will not be a major embarrassment for Abe. Things either stay the same, or Japan’s neighbors get angry. (Nothing new there.) But, all this bickering and farting around with not being able to get the promised Olympics ready is a major embarrassment, with the world laughing and looking down on those who made the promises.

    Tokyo lost the last Olympic bid partly because of the lack of interest by the general population. Now, the image presented is one of disorder and rebellion. The games should be taken away from Tokyo and given (permanently) to Greece. Fix up the former venues, help the economy, and stop this money wasting.

    • Hendrix

      the games should certainly be taken away from japan, they should never have got the games in the first place.

  • Ahojanen

    A sensible recourse. I see it matters little whether the decision has been made with some political concerns linking the critical security bills.

    As for stadium construction, the opposition predominated public opinions by a large margin (nearly 90%) as shown in several polls. The government could never fail to respond.

  • Hendrix

    cant have foreigners building olympic stadiums now can we? …. if it was a japanese architect they would never have pulled the plug.

  • Erma

    I hope they consider eliminating their whaling program before then. World wide protests are already being planned – it would be a shame if this outdated and unnecessary practice were to continue and take away from all the hard work of the athletes.

  • Steve Jackman

    Thanks for the link, Jonathan. Yes, it’s a good article in The Guardian. As I recently wrote in my comments to the Toyota Julie Hamp story, collaborations and business interactions between the Japanese and foreigners end badly more often than not.

    This is because there are some very dark forces within Japanese society and corporate Japan, which work relentlessly to undercut and sabotage foreign involvement with anything Japanese. There is such a pattern of this that anyone denying this phenomenon is either ignorant about the real Japan or is being disingenous.

    At the heart of it is a very conservative and traditional Japan where insular, racist and xenophobic views are widespread. They want Japan’s interactions with the rest of the world to be a one way street, based solely on exporting Japanese products to the rest of the world to keep the Japanese economy afloat. I wonder how much longer such provincial and backward attitudes can last.

    • Hendrix

      it’s becoming clear that this stadium issue has been engineered to deflect fire away from Abes security bills thing… Zaha Hadid has recently said the design is nothing to do with the inflated costs… its clear she was set up as a fall guy… i guarantee they will now get their “trustworthy” Japanese architects on the case to design it… as you say, very racist xenephobic elements at work in Japan.

    • Jonathan Fields

      I think it’s more organic than you make it sound, but you’re absolutely right.

      I used to work for a large and very famous Kyoto company that has been in the news lately, and there was always some issue with foreign employees or foreign contractors that was entirely the fault of Japanese staff being hard-headed and ridiculous.

      We had English teachers from a local dispatch company come in once to give lessons, and the teacher for the advanced group left in the middle of the lesson. The students had been given a hypothetical scenario where they were an American company trying to open a restaurant in Tokyo. They decided the best idea was an upscale washoku restaurant that didn’t allow foreigners. This offended the teacher, so he packed up and left. Of course, everyone was up in arms about this jerk who left in the middle of a lesson. “Unforgivable!” Some representatives from the dispatch company came in and apologized on the teacher’s behalf. They tried to blame “cultural differences.” I didn’t want to get caught up in the poostorm, so I kept my thoughts to myself.

      Another time we had a European firm come in to work on a deal, and everyone acted like little kids. They managed to talk the other firm way down from their initial terms and then refused to make a deal anyway. When the Europeans asked why the Japanese wouldn’t deal, the dude in charge of negotiations abruptly ended the meeting. This left the Europeans speechless. One lady sat in the meeting room for a good 15 minutes after everyone else had left. I was asked to go in and tell her to leave and she said, “Why would you ask us to come out here if you aren’t even going to entertain an offer?! This deal is hugely beneficial for you! It makes no sense!” I told her I wasn’t allowed to comment.

      Perhaps the weirdest example was a British guy they fired for trying to move a meeting back 15 minutes. I wasn’t in the same division as that guy, but everyone in the building kept saying stuff like, “he’s been in Japan for 12 years, and he still doesn’t understand our culture.” At the time I thought maybe they had a legitimate reason to fire him and they were just using cultural incompatibility as tatemae, but then I realized that’s nearly as disturbing.

      Needless to say, I didn’t stick around for long.

      • zer0_0zor0


  • Need to save some money to buy US arms, to send Japanese troops to die for US hegemony, just for a moment forgetting the US firebombed Tokyo, and nuked of 2 cities of civilians.. after Japan agreed to surrender.