Official in charge of Japan's new National Stadium to resign
TOKYO: The official tasked with overseeing construction of Japan's new National Stadium, the centrepiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics, is set to resign after plans for the arena were scrapped amid an outcry over soaring costs.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to take plans for the stadium "back to zero", which also left the 2019 rugby World Cup without a venue for several key matches, has damaged Japan's reputation for organisational prowess and set off a round of finger-pointing within the government.
There have even been calls for Education and Sports Minister Hakubun Shimomura to take responsibility for the fiasco, which became a political liability for Abe as anger over ballooning costs spread.
Kimito Kubo, a 58-year-old official in the sports ministry who headed a division overseeing construction of the stadium, would resign for personal reasons, the ministry said on Tuesday.
"This was a general decision made as part of a standard personnel reshuffle," Shimomura told reporters, noting that the question of responsibility would be addressed by a third party commission tasked with looking into the matter.
"I expect them to thoroughly discuss this issue, including whether or not I bear responsibility as well," Shimomura added.
The stadium is set to host track and field events, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies, for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Officials have said the stadium's original design, by U.K.-based Zaha Hadid, helped Tokyo win the hosting rights in 2013.
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 that left nearly 20,000 dead.
A competition to choose a new design is set for this autumn, with a decision made and plans due in by the end of the year, though Japan's Olympics Minister admitted last week nothing had been decided with regard to stadium specifics or cost.
Construction is set to start early next year and finish in the spring of 2020, with the opening ceremony set for July 24.
Japan has already paid out around 5.9 billion yen ($47.62 million) to Hadid, other architects and construction firms, media reports say, with little of this likely to return.
There is also the chance that Hadid, who has said she wanted to remain involved in plans for the stadium, could sue.