Japan PM Abe orders full review of 2020 Olympic stadium

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a committee session debating the security bills at the parliament in Tokyo, Japan on July 15, 2015.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a committee session debating the security bills at the parliament in Tokyo, Japan on July 15, 2015. PHOTO: EPA
An artist's impression of the new National Stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
An artist's impression of the new National Stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. PHOTO: AFP/ JAPAN SPORT COUNCIL

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday called for a complete review of plans for Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium amid growing public anger over its US$2 billion (S$2.73 billion) price tag.

"On the new national stadium for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I have decided we need a full review of the plans and need to go back to the drawing board," Abe told reporters after meeting Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori.

"We have looked at the logistics and construction period and I have made this decision because I was assured that we can definitely complete construction on time.”

“We must control costs as far as possible,” he added. “We are determined to draw up the best possible plan, and we have to draft that plan as quickly as possible.”

The 2019 rugby World Cup, to be held in Japan, became the first casualty of Friday’s decision, with organisers now forced to find alternative venues in Tokyo or Yokohama for matches, including the tournament final.

“Unfortunately we cannot build the stadium in time for the rugby World Cup,” said Abe, whose approval rating has plunged following his push to pass controversial security bills that opponents say undermine Japan’s pacifist constitution.”

“But there is no change to our position that the government remains fully committed to supporting the tournament.”

Construction costs for the new National Stadium have ballooned by nearly twice the original budget to 252 billion yen (US$2.03 billion), which puts it on track to become the world’s most expensive sports venue.

Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s futuristic design, which was selected from a field of international entries, was frowned upon by some Japanese architects, but a cosmetic row has given way to widespread discontent and public bickering over finances. 

- ‘Slapdash plans’ -

Earlier this week, the Japanese architect who oversaw the selection of Hadid’s plans, Tadao Ando, backed her blueprint, but expressed concern over soaring costs, which dwarf those for the last two Summer Olympics.

London spent around US$680 million on the main venue for the 2012 Games, while Beijing’s 2008 “Bird’s Nest” stadium cost less than US$500 million.

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of influential business lobby the Japan Association of Corporate Executives and president of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, waded into the row on Thursday, criticising the plans as “slapdash” and accusing the government of “not seriously working to cut expenditure.”

Construction on Tokyo’s Olympic stadium had been set to begin in October and was going to be completed by May 2019 – just in time for the rugby World Cup.

But as the unseemly row over financing the project escalated, senior officials sought to distance themselves from blame, Mori pointing the finger at the sports ministry, while opposition politicians called for Shimomura’s resignation.

Shimomura, who has clashed publicly with Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe, insisted the government needed to look into how the design was selected, admitting there had been “insufficient debate over the costs.”

Japan’s sports minister confirmed last month that the cost of the stadium, to be built on the site of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic centrepiece, represented a 90 billion yen hike since it was chosen 2012.

Masuzoe likened the government to the “Imperial Army” in a furious outburst for demanding Tokyo foot part of the bill and criticised them for failing to negotiate harder as contractors raised their prices.