Japan rips up 2020 Olympic stadium plan

Tokyo (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday ordered plans for Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium to be ditched amid public anger over its $2 billion price tag.

The decision means the organisers of the 2019 Rugby World Cup will have to find a new venue for the final.

"I have decided we must go back to the drawing board," Abe told reporters after meeting top Japanese sports officials.

"We have looked at the logistics and construction period and I have made this decision because I was assured that we can definitely complete construction on time.

"We must control costs as far as possible," he added. "We are determined to draw up the best possible plan, and we have to draft that plan as quickly as possible."

Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid's futuristic design had been met with fury by many Japanese architects. What began as a cosmetic row gave way to widespread discontent and public bickering over finances.

Sports Minister Hakubun Shimomura said a new bidding process would be launched. "We will decide the design in six months," he told reporters. "From design to completion of construction, 50-plus months is looked at. The aim is to finish it by the spring of 2020."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had noted the decision and indicated it would closely follow the new stadium plan to make sure the Olympic deal is kept.

"The National Stadium is a national project, which will serve the people of Japan for many years to come. This is why the Japanese government is best placed to decide on what is appropriate for this venue," said John Coates, an IOC vice president and head of the coordinating commission for Tokyo.

"We understand that the review of the stadium will not affect its delivery for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we will work with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to ensure that what is needed for the Games is delivered in the revised plan," he added.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup became an early casualty of the U-turn with organisers forced to find alternative venues in Tokyo or Yokohama for the final and other matches.

"Unfortunately we cannot build the stadium in time for the rugby World Cup," said Abe, whose approval rating has plunged in recent months. "But the government remains fully committed to supporting the tournament."

Construction costs for the new National Stadium have nearly doubled to 252 billion yen ($2.03 billion), which puts it on track to become the world's most expensive stadium.

- 'Slapdash plans -

In a statement late Friday, Hadid's office denied the high cost of the stadium was due to the design.

"It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design," a statement posted on the architect's official website read.

"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."

Earlier this week, the Japanese architect who oversaw the selection of Hadid's plans, Tadao Ando, backed her blueprint but expressed concern over the soaring costs, which dwarf those of the last two Summer Olympics.

London spent around $680 million on the main venue for the 2012 Games, while Beijing's 2008 "Bird's Nest" stadium cost less than $500 million.

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of influential business lobby the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, on Thursday, criticised the plans as "slapdash" and accused the government of "not seriously working to cut expenditure."

Construction on the Olympic stadium was to begin in October and was going to be completed by May 2019 -- just in time for the Rugby World Cup.

But as the row over financing the project escalated, senior officials sought to distance themselves from blame, Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori pointing the finger at the sports ministry, while opposition politicians called for Shimomura's resignation.