- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

TOKYO (AP) - Japanese political leaders said Thursday the new main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is too costly and called for cost-cutting efforts to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

The latest cost estimate of 252 billion yen ($2 billion) has nearly doubled from the initially planned 130 billion yen, and is a sharp increase from the 163 billion yen estimate last year. The Tokyo stadium shapes up as the world’s most expensive sports stadium, more costly than the $1.6 billion MetLife stadium in New Jersey.

The recent revelation of the numbers has triggered a public outcry in Japan and prompted calls for a review of the project.

The bloated cost also goes against the IOC’s “Olympics Agenda 2020” reform program, which seeks to make the games less expensive and calls for maximum use of existing facilities.

The controversy is also an additional headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose support rating has fallen over unpopular defense legislation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that officials are open to any suggestions to minimize the cost burden. He said, however, no specific decisions have been made, including whether to completely change the building design.

Abe said he will “turn his ears to the people’s voices and do utmost for the success of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

Abe reportedly will hold talks Friday with former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, head of Tokyo’s Olympic organizing committee, to discuss how to address the issue. The government plans to compile a cost-reduction plan by the end of July, Kyodo News reported.

Separately, renowned architect Tadao Ando, who headed the government committee that selected the design, said Thursday that he was astonished by the bloated cost. He cited insufficient attention to cost feasibility in earlier planning stages.

Ando said his panel was mostly focused on the design selection, while scrutinizing cost feasibility was not a priority.

“When I heard the latest estimate, I thought ‘No way!’ Something must be done,” Ando told a news conference at a Tokyo hotel. “From the viewpoint of the ordinary people, it’s just unthinkable.”

Ando acknowledged technical and cost challenges of the stadium design of Zaha Hadid, an award-winning Iraqi architect based in Britain, but said he had thought Japan’s cutting-edge construction technology and cost-cutting efforts could resolve the issue. Ando said changing designers would not be an option.

Ando said the construction schedule has been tight, and cautioned against further delays as the stadium needs to be ready for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Suga cited the lack of explanation to the public about why the cost has grown so much.

“We need to make all kinds of efforts to minimize the burden on the people of Japan,” Suga said.

About one-third of the increased cost comes from the rising cost of labor and materials, while the remaining two-thirds is because of the stadium’s “unusual design,” including a pair of gigantic steel arches, according to Yoshihiro Kizawa, an official at Japan Sports Council, a governmental organization overseeing the project.

The shape of the stadium has been likened to a bicycle helmet.

Kizawa said it would take 42 months to complete the stadium, meaning the construction must start in the fall to meet the deadline. He suggested it would be impossible to start over from scratch.

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