Abe deserves praise for canceling original plan for new National Stadium

Abe deserves praise for canceling original plan for new National Stadium
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks (R) during a short press conference after a meeting concerning the 2020 Olympic Stadium, at his official residence in Tokyo on July 17, 2015.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the government will go back to the drawing board regarding the construction plan of the new National Stadium.

It was impossible from the beginning for the government, with its financial difficulties, to embark on construction costing a hefty ¥252 billion (S$2.78 billion). We praise the decision by the prime minister, who said, "I decided to review [the project] from square one."

Public criticism of the construction plan had kept growing. Even some members of the ruling coalition parties had questioned it.

Abe said he decided to review the plan because "many people and athletes strongly criticised it." The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games "must be an event that will be celebrated by all the people," the prime minister stressed.

For the nation to work together to make a success of the Tokyo Olympics, the new National Stadium, the symbol of the event, must never be the object of suspicious looks from the public. This step should have been taken earlier, but the prime minister's decision to abandon the design featuring two gigantic arches is appropriate because they inflated the construction costs.

Even if the decision to review the current design means the stadium will be completed too late for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, it cannot be helped.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura; Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralymic Games; and others stressed that the novel design of the new stadium was highly praised when Tokyo made its bid to host the 2020 Games. The drastic change of the original plan is tantamount to breaking an international pledge, they also said.

Poor cost-consciousness

However, there is no doubt that reducing construction costs matches the goal of Olympic reforms promoted by the International Olympic Committee to reduce the financial burden on host cities.

Even if changing the original design incurs a huge penalty, this could be easily covered by getting rid of the gigantic arches to cut construction costs.

An international competition for the new stadium design was held in 2012, with the assumption that the construction cost was ¥130 billion. However, "there weren't thorough discussions on the costs," architect Tadao Ando, who chaired the selection committee for the competition, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Ando's remarks reveal that officials concerned with the plan were not particularly cost-conscious from the beginning. If members of the selection committee could not tell that constructing gigantic arches would be costly, their professional abilities are poor.

Abe told the sports minister and Toshiaki Endo, the minister for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, to start preparing a new plan immediately.

It is important to definitely complete the new stadium in time for the 2020 Games. There is limited time left for construction, so no mistakes can be allowed in selecting a design and making a basic drawing based on it.

The confusion so far has been caused by ambiguity about who is responsible for the project and what authority they have. The government must learn a lesson from this and proceed with the project efficiently.

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