Construction period puts new Tokyo Olympic Stadium on thin ice

Construction period puts new Tokyo Olympic Stadium on thin ice
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
PHOTO: Reuters

This is the fifth instalment of a series on Abe's politics.

The government is being pressed to construct the new National Stadium by the end of January 2020 in time for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games that year, but whether this target can be achieved remains to be seen.

In a meeting with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the United Nations on Sept. 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "Submissions are being solicited from businesses with the goal of completing construction of the new National Stadium in a shorter period, by the end of January 2020." Bach said he was greatly encouraged by Abe's commitment.

The initial ¥130 billion (S$1.5 billion) construction budget for the main venue of the Olympics fluctuated wildly, eventually ballooning to ¥252 billion. In the face of public criticism the government scrapped the project, settling on a new design plan (see below) for which construction is to be completed by the end of April 2020 and with the budget capped at ¥155 billion.

However, the IOC strongly demanded that the completion date be brought forward by three months so pre-Olympic tournaments could be held and to ensure there are no problems with the facility.

In late August, IOC Vice President John Coates demanded in a meeting with Toshiaki Endo, minister in charge of the Olympics, that the stadium should be completed by January 2020 at the latest. If not, and if flaws are discovered, there is the risk that repairs won't be carried out in time, he said.

To rebuild the considerable amount of lost trust caused by the scrapped stadium design, and also the Olympic emblem controversy, the government has bent over backward to comply with the IOC's tighter time frame. Abe has expressed complete confidence to his inner circle regarding the ability of Japanese businesses to meet the challenge, but the situation doesn't warrant an overly optimistic outlook.

As a condition of the government's international design competition to determine a contractor this November, higher scores are awarded to proposals that include suggestions for reducing the construction time.

Theoretically, if the number of construction workers is increased then the deadline could be met, but according to general contractors, raising labour costs would prove difficult with the total budget capped at ¥155 billion. A government official expressed unease regarding the strategy: "The tighter schedule can't be forced. Ultimately, it depends on the contractor."

Countermeasures against cyber-attacks is another pressing issue.

During the 2012 London Olympics there were 212 million unauthorized accesses to the official website, with the ticketing site going down at one point. With the ongoing digitization of the Olympic Games, including ticketing and video streaming, efforts to quash savvy hackers is no simple task.

Endo called for increased vigilance at a lecture held on Oct. 6. "Compared to the London Olympics, cyber-attacks on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will increase by two orders of magnitude, reaching the tens of billions," he warned.

Regarding the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Japan Sport Council (JSC) and the Tokyo metropolitan government, the vagueness of where accountability lies for the new stadium has been met with harsh criticism. In his recent Cabinet reshuffle, the prime minister virtually dismissed sports minister Hakubun Shimomura from his post. Shimomura, who was named as largely responsible for the failed plans by a third-party investigative committee, has been succeeded by Olympic veteran Hiroshi Hase.

In announcing the retention of Toshiaki Endo as Olympics minister on Oct. 7, Abe issued a strong reminder. "I want all the necessary preparations made to hold an Olympic Games to be celebrated by the people."

Endo and Hase should build a new order and make it clear who is responsible. That would be the starter's pistol for a fresh start.

■ New design plan

By canceling the original plan for the new National Stadium design with a roof supported by a massive pair of arches, proposed construction costs were cut by about ¥100 billion. The plan for a retractable roof has also been abandoned; instead it will cover only spectator seats in the upper level. In principle, the facility will be designed specifically for track and field, football and other competitive sporting events. The installation of movable seats has also been scrapped, with the capacity reduced from about 80,000 to about 68,000.Speech

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