Japan leader announces redo for costly Tokyo Olympic stadium

TOKYO

Japan scrapped the design of the Olympic stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Games because of spiraling costs and reopened bidding for a new plan in a stunning reversal on Friday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added the stadium won’t be completed in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as scheduled.

"We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan, and start over from zero," Abe told reporters after a meeting at his office with Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. "The cost has ballooned just too much."

The government has been under growing criticism as the estimated cost for the new National Stadium rose to 252 billion yen ($2 billion), nearly twice as much as the initial estimate of 130 billion yen.

"We are disappointed by today’s announcement," said Akira Shimazu, secretary-general of the Rugby World Cup organizing committee. "But the prime minister has pledged his full support to ensure a successful 2019 Rugby World Cup."

The new 80,000-seat National Stadium was to be the showpiece venue of the first Rugby World Cup in Asia, hosting the opening game, semifinals, and final.

It was too early to choose an alternative venue, but the leading candidate was the 72,000-seat International Stadium Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. The stadium, which hosted the 2002 soccer World Cup final, was one of 11 other venues selected for the 2019 tournament.

Abe said he obtained the consent of Mori, a former prime minister, and instructed the sports and Olympics ministers to immediately prepare a process to choose a new plan.

"I have been listening to the voices of the people and the athletes for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review," Abe said. "We will minimize the cost as much as we can and make one that is best and realistic."

For weeks, the public line of Abe and other government officials has been that they would stick with the stadium designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid.

Hadid’s office said the cost problem was not because of her design, but soaring construction costs in Tokyo and a tight deadline.

"It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors, and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council," Jim Heverin, project director of Zaha Hadid Architects said in a statement emailed to the Associated Press.

"The real challenge for the stadium has been agreeing an acceptable construction cost against the backdrop of steep annual increases in construction costs in Tokyo and a fixed deadline," he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said the contract with Hadid would be cancelled, and that a new competition would be completed within six months, and a new project and its estimated cost will be announced.

Construction was scheduled to start in October on Hadid’s design, which was chosen in 2012 in an international competition.

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said it respected Abe’s decision, but "we would like to ensure that the construction of the stadium is completed in time for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games." The committee said it will work closely with the government to make sure the review does not "adversely affect" the event.

The latest cost estimate was a sharp increase from a 163 billion yen estimate last year. It would have been the world’s most expensive sports stadium, surpassing the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.