Tokyo Olympic chief apologizes to IOC over stadium change

Associated Press

July 29, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Japanese organizers apologized to the IOC on Wednesday over the scrapping of the original plans for the Olympic stadium and delivered assurances that the new venue will be ready in time for the 2020 Games.

The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, said it would work with Japan on the new project to make sure "there are no surprises" this time.

Earlier this month, the Japanese government threw out the design plans for the flagship stadium amid public criticism of the 252 billion yen ($2 billion) price tag, which was nearly double the original estimate and would have made it the most expensive sports stadium ever.

The government said it would start over with a new design and construction competition. The move means the stadium will not be ready as planned for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, but Tokyo organizers and the IOC said they are confident it will be built in time for the games.

"I forthrightly extended our apologies regarding the change in plans for the national stadium," organizing committee head Yoshio Mori said after a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach and his executive board in Kuala Lumpur. "But they said it was not necessary to feel apologetic. The IOC said that changes need to be made, and as long as the changes are made for the better, that is fine."

Bach said Japan's decision resulted from soaring construction costs that "have just gone through the roof" and were beyond the control of the organizing committee and the government.

"We respect and can understand in such times you would not like to build the most expensive stadium in the world," Bach said at a news conference. "What we need is a state-of-the-art stadium for athletes and spectators, and I'm sure we will get it."

Toshiro Muto, chief executive officer of the Tokyo organizing committee, said the Japanese will work to reduce costs despite the rising prices of construction materials.

"There will be an inflation (of prices) but we will make sure we minimize that," he said. "For us the priority is to have it completed before the Olympics. We are sure and confident the stadium will be completed on time."

Zaha Hadid Architects, the designers of the original stadium plans, blamed the bidding process and soaring building costs for the spiraling price tag. Two Japanese construction giants, Taisei Corp. and Takenaka Corp., which were part of the earlier plan, are expected to put in another bid.

Bach stressed that the IOC would offer its own input in the tendering process to ensure the Olympic body is involved from the very beginning this time.

"We want to make sure that all the Olympic requirements are taken into consideration and there are no surprises ... neither for the government, neither for the IOC."

"You can be sure there will no exaggerated requirements," Bach added.

Muto also updated the IOC board on the status of Tokyo's other venues, many of which have been moved over the past year in a bid to cut costs. Still up in the air is the location of the indoor cycling velodrome.

Muto said cycling's governing body, the UCI, would hold a board meeting in September on the issue. The UCI has resisted Japanese proposals to move cycling from Tokyo to Izu, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) outside the capital.

The IOC board also received progress updates from organizers of next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Bach will travel to Rio next week for the Aug. 5 ceremonies marking the one-year countdown to the games.

Bach singled out the time pressure for completing the main broadcast center in Rio and the challenge of cleaning up the severe water pollution affecting the venues for the sailing and rowing competitions.

"On one hand we have seen great progress," Bach said. "On the other hand there is no time to lose. Given the fact that the organizing committee has acknowledged these challenges, we are very confident they will have great games in one year from now."