• Kyodo, Staff Report

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The starting pistol has been fired on construction of the new National Stadium, at a site that remains a shamefaced wasteland less than four years before the Tokyo Olympics.

The government on Friday approved the terms of a ¥149 billion ($1.47 billion) contract to build the complex, a little under its declared cap of ¥155 billion.

Pending complications — a feature of Japan’s performance so far — a consortium led by construction giant Taisei Corp. will sign the contract soon, with work starting in December.

The building is expected be complete by the end of November 2019, a target that leaves no margin for delay.

The terms were agreed at a ministerial meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, which also heard plans for the stadium’s use after 2020. It is likely to live on as a privatized soccer, athletics and arts venue.

Legacy uses are a focus of the International Olympic Committee, which is sensitive to criticism of overspending on single-use facilities.

On Thursday a panel of experts set up by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government estimated the cost of hosting the games could balloon past ¥3 trillion.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike was among the nongovermental officials present at the meeting. Speaking afterward, she said she will fight tooth and nail for cost-effectiveness.

“I will keep raising my voice so that (the stadium) will be used for the people of Tokyo, to make up for the burden that Tokyo has to bear,” she said.

Another official present was Kazumi Ohigashi, whose Japan Sport Council will operate the stadium.

Some observers say the completion date will come barely in time for the summer extravaganza. The IOC likes to take control of a venue six months before an event, and newly built facilities such as this are typically loaded with test events to make sure everything from the turnstiles to the toilets can handle crowds.

Initial plans had the 2019 Rugby World Cup performing that duty, but the stadium will not be ready in time.

Experts also point out that unforeseen disruptions to the construction schedule, such as typhoons, an earthquake or a materials shortage, could easily break the November 2019 completion date altogether.

Approval of the construction cost comes after months of apparent inactivity. The government scrapped a previous design blueprint in July 2015. It reopened the tender and selected the current design in December.

Meanwhile, the nation this week was faced with news that three further Olympic new-build facilities may be scrapped, with swimming, rowing and volleyball events moved to existing facilities.

In 2014, officials scrapped plans for new badminton, basketball and sailing venues over costs.

Recommendations for the latest three cancellations were made by a working group set up within the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Changes need the approval of both the IOC and the governing bodies of the sports involved.

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