A year after winning Olympics, Tokyo faces hurdles in move from bid to build

A year after winning Olympics, Tokyo faces hurdles in move from bid to build
An aerial view shows people sitting in formation to the words "thank you" and displaying signs that collectively read "Arigato" (Thank You) during an event celebrating Tokyo being chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo, in this file photo taken by Kyodo September 8, 2013.

TOKYO - Tokyo's 2020 Summer Olympics were meant to be different: compact, on budget and on time.

But now, as the Japanese capital moves to leap from bid to building a year after winning the games, the optimism is ebbing.

The National Stadium, built when Japan hosted the Olympics in 1964, symbolises the woes. Set to be demolished two months ago for a sleek new venue, it stands empty, its seats ripped out, waiting for a deal to bring the wrecking ball.

The city won the Games over Madrid and Istanbul by emphasising Japan's organisational strengths and US$4.5 billion (S$5.65 billion) in the bank. The rejoicing over the victorious bid on Sept. 7 last year - Sept. 8 in Japan - coincided with a surge of optimism over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic revival plans.

Abe put his personal prestige on the line with a vow to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to put on the best Games ever.

But now, even as "Abenomics" appears to be sputtering, the Olympics face ballooning costs, angry environmentalists and a fading vision of a cosy, downtown event.

"With the rivals we had, and evidence of problems for the games in Sochi and Rio, there was a sense in the IOC that they wanted the Olympics held by a place that had its act together," said Hitoshi Sakai, chief executive of the Institute for Social Engineering think tank.

Instead, even demolition of the National Stadium - which half a century ago was filled with the roars of a triumphant crowd at the kindling of the Olympic flame for the 1964 Summer Games - has gone through two rounds of failed bidding.


Central to Tokyo's promises was that nearly all the competition venues would be within 8 km (5 miles) of the Olympic Village.

But construction and labour costs have soared due to rebuilding after a March 11, 2011, tsunami, and a rise in consumption tax from 5 to 8 percent this April was not factored in to budgets, a Tokyo government official said.

Planners allotted US$1.5 billion for venues in the bid but that estimate more than doubled late last year after re-calculations.

Budget worries may mean plans for a new basketball arena are dropped and the competition might be shunted 25 km (15 miles) outside Tokyo to an existing venue, although "sustainability" is being cited as the reason.

The yacht races may have to move some 27 km (17 miles) to the east, because the original venue is within the approach zone to Haneda Airport and helicopters need to fly above the races to film them.

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