Nothing in mind yet for stadium, says Japan Olympics minister

TOKYO: Exactly five years before the 2020 Summer Games open in Tokyo, Japan has yet to decide what it wants in its new National Stadium after scrapping a previous design due to ballooning costs, its Olympics minister said on Friday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's surprise decision last week to take plans for the stadium "back to zero" in the face of growing outrage was the latest in a string of broken promises related to the Games, which Tokyo won two years ago based largely on its organisational prowess and reputation for efficiency.

In addition to being the centrepiece of the 2020 Olympics, the stadium was also supposed to host the biggest matches of the 2019 rugby World Cup, including the opening game and final.

Olympics officials have credited the design by U.K.-based Zaha Hadid as another factor in Tokyo's winning the Games.

However, with the estimated cost climbing to $2.1 billion, almost twice that expected, and a futuristic design derided as a bicycle helmet or a drooping raw oyster, there has been a backlash in a country still rebuilding from the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo, who also heads a committee tasked with developing a new plan for the stadium, said all options were still open.

"Nothing is decided yet," Endo told a news conference on Friday. "We are asking for lots of opinions."

While previous Olympic hosts have downsized stadium plans, few have ever gone back to the drawing board at this late stage.

Japan is already out of pocket to the tune of around 5.9 billion yen ($47.62 million) in initial costs to Hadid, other architects and construction firms, media reports say, with little of this likely to return.

There is also the chance Hadid could sue.


A competition to choose a new design is set for this autumn, with a decision made and plans, including cost estimates, drawn up by the end of the year. Construction is set to start early next year and finish in the spring of 2020.

The stadium needs to be large enough to seat 80,000 but other specifications, such as whether or not it has a roof and how it will be used after the Games end, are still being discussed, Endo said.

"As for construction costs, we aren't thinking of anything at this point, we are really starting from zero," he added.

Tokyo has also backed away from another pledge that helped it win the hosting rights -- its promise to hold most of the events within 8 km of the Olympic Village -- in order to save money by using pre-existing venues.

A few venues are likely to be so far away that athletes will not even stay at the Village.

Other setbacks included the resignation of Tokyo's previous mayor due to bribery allegations, and delays in destroying the former National Stadium. The structure built for the 1964 Summer Games has now been reduced to a huge patch of raw earth in the centre of the city.

But Endo, who described how on the night of July 24, 2020, opening ceremonies will commence at the stadium, "which should be completed by then," said Japan's reputation for getting things done should remain undamaged.

Tokyo has also been helped by a change in International Olympic Committee policy that emphasizes keeping costs down.

"It's true that we told the IOC we wanted to hold as many events as possible within 8 km, we felt very strongly about this. But of course we're using peoples' tax money," he said.

"We feel a bit sorry about the difference. But given the situation in Japan and the IOC policy ... this is the way we'll proceed."