Olympics | SPORTS SCOPE

International Stadium Yokohama should be primary venue for a 2020 ‘Japan’ Olympics

by Jack Gallagher

Here we go again.

Just when you thought it could not get any worse, it has.

Friday’s announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the original plans for Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium would be scrapped over the rising price tag was another new low for Japan with the international sporting community.

Honestly, this is beginning to sound like a broken record.

And I’m not talking about the kind that’s achieved in athletic competition. I’m referring to the old phonograph where the same sound was repeated over and over due to a defect in the disk on the turntable.

The plans for the stadium that was supposed to host the opening and final contests of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in addition to being the centerpiece of the 2020 Tokyo Games, will begin again from scratch.

This while the clock keeps ticking. The Olympics are scheduled to begin five years from Friday — on July 24, 2020.

Last year, we had the Japan Basketball Association receive a global suspension because of its failure to follow the guidelines of world governing body FIBA.

Then the plans presented to the IOC as part of Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics were significantly altered, with several venues being relocated as part of an alleged cost-saving plan.

But Friday’s announcement takes the cake. The seriousness of this decision cannot be understated.

Once again the concept of keeping your word just doesn’t seem to resonate with the powers-that-be here. It’s an absolute disgrace.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I would not be surprised if World Rugby even considers pulling the entire tournament out of Japan over this.

Why?

Because it was given an ironclad promise that its sport would receive a proper venue to play its showcase event.

Just imagine what will happen if World Rugby comes out and says, “You have reneged on our signed contract, therefore we are going to move the event out of Japan.”

I’m certain that World Rugby has the legal right to do this, and who could blame it if it did?

“World Rugby is extremely disappointed by today’s announcement that the new National Stadium will not be ready to host Rugby World Cup 2019 matches despite repeated assurances to contrary from the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee and Japan Sports Council,” Reuters reported World Rugby as saying in a statement on Friday.

“The National Stadium was a compelling and important pillar of Japan’s successful bid to host Rugby World Cup 2019, which was awarded to the Japan Rugby Football Union in 2009.”

The cryptic part of the World Rugby message came in this passage:

“World Rugby is urgently seeking further detailed clarification from the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee and will need to consider the options relating to the impact of today’s announcement,” according to Reuters.

There is little doubt that the World Rugby officials are infuriated by this latest development and justifiably so. They may even consider legal action.

Does moving the RWC to another country sound far-fetched?

I think not.

There are plenty of nations out there where rugby is far more popular and ingrained in the culture than Japan that would be happy to host the global event.

The greater issue here lies in the impact the decision to scrap the original Olympic Stadium plan will have as Japan tries to acquire sporting events in the future.

You think some of the folks at these governing bodies might be getting a little concerned about dealing with Japan going forward?

I believe an answer in the affirmative would be correct.

Tokyo has squandered a golden opportunity to build some world-class venues that could be utilized for decades to come.

I keep recalling the way the international media bashed Russian President Vladimir Putin over the cost for the Sochi Games. The bottom line is that he got all the venues built just like he said he would.

It would seem to me that if cost is such a great concern for the Olympic Stadium the best idea would be to scrap the project altogether.

How about making the land where the stadium that hosted the 1964 Tokyo Games stood a park where families could go and children could play?

A big open space with trees and grass in central Tokyo. It could even be called “Olympic Park.”

Is that too radical?

Of course this would then present a problem for the 2020 Games as the primary venue would either have to be built somewhere else or an existing facility utilized.

The solution is a simple one.

Have International Stadium Yokohama and its 72,000-plus seats be the site for the main Olympic attractions. It was good enough for the World Cup final back in 2002.

With five years to go it could certainly be given some upgrades to satisfy IOC officials. This is more logical than the nonsense we keep seeing in Tokyo.

With the “compact games” plan long since abandoned, this would be a viable alternative. Furthermore, you could play the basketball games at Yokohama Arena just up the street, instead of at Saitama Super Arena.

This would put athletics and basketball, two of the marquee events of the games, in close proximity.

Turn the Olympic extravaganza into a regional event — which is exactly what it has become with four prefectures now slated to host events. If Tokyo doesn’t want to live up to its promises, then it’s time to move on.

I’m reminded of the old saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

“Tokyo 2020” should be changed to “Japan 2020” and the time-wasting should stop before there is any further embarrassment.