Japan to scrap Olympic stadium plans, start over

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Japan to Start from Scratch on Olympic Stadium

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday the scrapping of a plan for a controversial national stadium, the centerpiece of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, after sky-rocketing costs sparked public outrage.

Anger over the stadium, the estimated cost of which had climbed to $2.1 billion, almost twice its expected cost when Tokyo won the bid for the Summer Games in 2013, had become a liability for Abe as he pushes unpopular defense bills through parliament.

The new National Stadium was also meant to have been the centerpiece of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Support for Abe, who returned to office in 2012 pledging to bolster defenses and reboot the economy, has slipped to about 40 percent on voter doubts about the defense legislation. News about the stadium has fed into that discontent.

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Japan to scrap Olympic stadium plans, start over
This artist's rendering released by Japan Sport Council in July 2015 shows the image of the Olympic stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Games. The Olympic stadium will be redone because of spiraling costs, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday, July 17, 2015 in a major reversal. (Japan Sport Council via AP)
This artist's rendering released by Japan Sport Council in July 2015 shows the image of the Olympic stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Games, being used for the 2019 World Cup rugby match. The Olympic stadium plans will be redone because of spiraling costs, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday, July 17, 2015 in a major reversal. As a result, the stadium won’t be completed in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as scheduled, he added. (Japan Sport Council via AP)
This artist's rendering released by Japan Sport Council in July 2015 shows the image of the Olympic stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Games. The Olympic stadium will be redone because of spiraling costs, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday, July 17, 2015 in a major reversal. (Japan Sport Council via AP)
2019 Rugby World Cup Organizing Committee Secretary General Akira Shimazu, center, answers reporters questions during a press conference in Tokyo, Friday, July 17, 2015 after Japan scrapped the design of the Olympic stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Games because of spiraling costs in a stunning reversal earlier in the day. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added the stadium won't be completed in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as scheduled. "We are disappointed by today's announcement," said Shimazu. "But the prime minister has pledged his full support to ensure a successful 2019 Rugby World Cup." (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, rear center, speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo, Friday, July 17, 2015. In a major reversal, Japan's leader announced Friday that the plans for the main stadium for the 2020 Olympics will be redone because of spiraling costs. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo, Friday, July 17, 2015. In a major reversal, Japan's leader announced Friday that the plans for the main stadium for the 2020 Olympics will be redone because of spiraling costs. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who led the committee that chose the design for new Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium, speaks during his press conference in Tokyo, Thursday, July 16, 2015. Ando said Thursday he does not know why the construction costs for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stadium have become so high after he chose the design of the main stadium as chairman of the design competition committee. (AP Photo/Ken Aragaki)
Japan's National Stadium is dismantled for the renovation Wednesday, May 13, 2015. After a series of delays, demolition of Tokyo's National Stadium has been completed, clearing the way for the building of a new structure that will be the centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Games. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
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"We are scrapping our plans for the stadium, and starting from zero," Abe told reporters after meeting Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo and Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura.

Referring to the furore over the cost, Abe said: "The Olympics are a party for our people, and they and the athletes, each one of them, are the main players. We need to make it something that they can celebrate."

Tokyo won the Olympics on a reputation for getting things done, but immediately ran into problems with costs and a roll back of some promises, such as keeping most sports venues within 8 km (5 miles) of the Olympic village.

The stadium, designed by British-based architect Zaha Hadid and likened to a bicycle helmet, has been criticized as expensive, grandiose and unsuited to the site, where a stadium built for Tokyo's 1964 Olympics stood until it was demolished recently.

Abe said that new arrangements would have to be made as soon as possible. But he made no mention of costs and whether this meant another competition for a design, or if another design from a 2012 competition would be used.

Though scaling back stadium plans is not uncommon and happened for the London 2012 Games and Sydney 2000 Games, changing plans entirely at this stage is unusual.

Officials had previously said changing the design would damage Tokyo's reputation.

Media said the Rugby World Cup would be held in an existing stadium, and the government was aiming to keep costs for the new stadium to about 180 billion yen ($1.45 billion).

The stadium was originally estimated to cost 130 billion yen, but last year estimates rocketed to 300 billion yen. Last month, the government put the cost at 252 billion yen ($2.03 billion).

Political experts said the stadium decision was aimed at bolstering support hit by the furore over the security legislation, which includes changes that would allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.

Tens of thousands of people have protested against the legislation, which was approved by parliament's lower house on Thursday.

"It's pretty blatant," said Steven Reed, a political science professor at Chuo University. "It's a wise play, but whether it will work or not is hard to tell."

Landing the Olympics added luster to Abe's administration, but plans quickly bogged down. The demolition of the old stadium was delayed and organizers broke promises to keep most venues close to the Olympic Village.

Jim Heverin, the project director for Zaha Hadid Architects, said in a statement that the escalating costs were not design-related.

"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," Heverin said.

"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."

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

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