With just over two years to go, work at Tokyo stadium site proceeding at full tilt pace

AP, Reuters

The Olympic Stadium in Tokyo is starting to take shape as structures of what will become spectator stands are being installed after 10 months of underground foundation work.

With its completion deadline just over two years away, work on the project is intense.

Olympic Minister Shunichi Suzuki, during a visit to the site Tuesday, said the construction is proceeding as scheduled, praising the workflow efficiency. He said all possible technology must be mobilized to finish by the November 2019 deadline. Suzuki, however, cautioned that workers should not stockpile overtime.

“We must mobilize all possible technology so that we can accomplish this splendid stadium by the deadline as planned,” Suzuki said. “But working conditions must meet legal standards.”

Behind him were 22 huge cranes that rose into the sky, putting concrete panels and steel frames in place.

Suzuki cited the suicide earlier this year of a worker linked to overwork, or karoshi, and addressed concerns about the working environment at the project. He reminded main construction company Taisei Corp. and the Japan Sport Council, the government-funded stadium operator, to keep close tabs on overtime put in by the workforce. The operators have since taken measures and the working environment has improved.

Construction was more than a year behind schedule when it started, as an earlier stadium plan was scrapped because of spiraling costs and an unpopular design. The government approved the ¥150 billion joint venture project among Taisei, Azusa Sekkei Co. and the office of Kengo Kuma, the well known architect who designed the replacement.

The death of a 23-year-old worker captured national attention in July when his family petitioned to have his death certified as karoshi.

The construction worker’s body was found in a mountainous area in central Japan in April, weeks after he disappeared, with a suicide note saying he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.” His lawyer said his overtime had exceeded 200 hours a month before he killed himself — more than twice the 80-hours-per-month limit for a death from overwork.

Tokyo’s labor standard office is still investigating.

Meanwhile, organizers for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Tuesday rejected allegations by 47 nongovernmental organizations that they had used companies with suspect logging track records, saying all materials purchased was strictly regulated.

In an open letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday the NGOs, including Greenpeace, said there is mounting evidence the Tokyo Games is using timber through companies associated with illegal logging and human and labor rights violations.

They added that the organizers had not been transparent about the sourcing of the wood used in construction projects for the games.

Tokyo organizers said the source rules developed were the result of extensive consultations and were subject to constant regulation.

“Tokyo 2020 had extensive discussions with working groups comprising experts in environmental matters, human rights, labor laws, corporate social responsibility and other fields,” a Tokyo Games spokesman said.

“In the series of discussions, we decided to have the meetings fully open to the media. We even took in feedback from the public in order to establish the sourcing codes.”

The spokesman said previous allegations in April about the use of illegal timber had been taken back by some NGOs after a meeting with Tokyo Games officials.

“Tokyo 2020 has published a general sustainable sourcing code and a sustainable sourcing code specifically governing timber.

“The Japan Sports Council and Tokyo 2020 sat together with the NGOs, who later withdrew the allegation after our thorough explanations,” he said.

“Tokyo 2020 sourcing codes emphasize a compliance with laws and respect for human rights. … We are preparing for a formal contact information service to address any further issues that may arise in the future.”

This is not the first environmental hurdle for the Tokyo Games.

The relocation of the city’s Tsukiji fish market, a popular tourist destination, to build an access road that will reduce the travel time for athletes has also experienced problems.

It has been delayed because of concerns about the cleanup of toxic pollution at its proposed new home, including unsafe levels of cancer-causing benzene.