POSTED: August 31st 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics provide unexpected headache for the IOC

Tokyo is working to find a more cost effective solution for rebuilding their main Olympic stadium /
Tokyo is working to find a more cost effective solution for rebuilding their main Olympic stadium /

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) When Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympics, Kevin Gosper, a long-time member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), summed up why the Japanese capital had got the vote ahead of Istanbul and Madrid. "This time", he said  "we are looking for a safe pair of hands."

This view was understandable given the worries at the time about the preparations of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. Japan has had a record of staging major events with smooth efficiency. In addition, it has had a solid economy, whereas Spain has been beset by financial problems, and Japan does not adjoin an area of continuing hostility, unlike Turkey with its neighbour being Syria.

Those words of Gosper came back to me as John Coates, his fellow IOC member in Australia, urged the Japanese Government to advance plans for the building of the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo. As chairman of the IOC Co-ordination Commission, Coates has been dealing with the fall-out of the decision to scrap the original plans for the arena, which had been submitted by Zaha Hadid Architects, the London-based company, who designed the Aquatic Centre for the 2012 Games.

The plans for the main stadium to host the 2020 athletics, opening and closing ceremonies and some other events had been savagely criticised by Japanese architects, some, no doubt, resentful that a foreigner's designs had been chosen. It was described as being inappropriate for the area and even as if a turtle had descended on the Japanese capital.

Still work was completed in May 2015 on demolishing the original stadium, the venue for the 1964 Olympics with the new arena due to be ready in March 2019, so that it could be used for the 2019 Rugby Union World Cup, which Japan are to host for the first time.

However, after several modifications to the original design had been agreed, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, announced that the plans would be scrapped because of the sheer cost of the building which had reached $1.85 billion, the most expensive stadium in history.

Instead, the Japanese Government had set a ceiling of $1.3 billion. This had been achieved by reducing the capacity from 80,000 to 68,000, abandoning the idea of a retractable roof and substituting a permanent roof over the seating areas, the scrapping both of a sports museum and also air conditioning and a reduction in the underground parking facilities. There was still the possibility of increasing the capacity to 80,000 after the Games for sports such as football and rugby union by having further seating over the athletics track.

However, because a new set of design proposals had to be approved, the stadium would not be ready for the 2019 Rugby Union World Cup and, in fact, only completed early in 2020. The IOC urged the Japanese Government to set a deadline of January, instead of the original date of March, because there had to be at least six months for such things as additional overlay in the stadium and Olympic broadcasting preparations before the Games open on July 24.

Zaha Hadid is still keen to provide the design for the arena and in a statement said that the company believed: "developing  the existing design with revisions and competitive bidding from construction companies is the most cost-effective way to create a new National Stadium for Japan." It added that if this were accepted the venue could even be completed in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

However, as it is, the days are passing and decisions have to be made. It all seems a long way from when Tokyo got the Games in 2013 because the IOC knew it could rely on the Japanese to carry out the brief without problems. The Japanese will, of course, get the job done but not quite in the way that was expected.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · Tokyo 2020 · John Goodbody

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