Tokyo loses more than a stadium with scrapping of Olympic venue

Kevin Rafferty says though hailed by some, Abe's decision to scrap the US$2 billion Olympic venue smacks of politics, hurting Japan's credibility

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 11:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 July, 2015, 11:17am

There's good news and there's bad news over Japan's decision to scrap the world's most expensive sports stadium, the main venue for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The good news is that at last someone has stood up to the gang of egotistical architects and their greedy construction company henchmen who rip off the public purse in the name of art to erect concrete monstrosities.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that he had listened to "the voice of the people" and scrapped the stadium, costs of which soared to more than US$2 billion, nearly double original estimates.

But there is bad news, too. The same Shinzo Abe, proclaiming himself the people's champion, has just defied the clear wishes of the people by rushing through new laws that will effectively destroy Japan's peace-proclaiming constitution by allowing troops to fight in other countries' battles.

This is a much more serious matter than cost overruns on an Olympic stadium. Spending US$2 billion on a stadium is a boondoggle too far (more expensive than the US$1.6 billion MetLife Stadium in New Jersey). But in the scheme of government white elephants, this was only a single building. The Bank of Japan has poured 1,000 times as much vainly trying to stimulate Japan's economy, with Abe's blessing.

Something stinks here. Why was Abe involved? He is not a member of Japan's Olympic committee. Until a few weeks ago, the government was proclaiming that it would stick by the existing design, citing time pressures and Japan's credibility.

Something stinks here. Why was Abe involved? He is not a member of Japan's Olympic committee

The cancellation of the stadium smacks of cheap politicking, with conjuror Abe facing growing unpopularity and trying to find a new trick to bemuse the people. There are serious questions of principle, morality and governance that need to be asked.

Among them: how will the government ensure that the new design will not suffer similarly from cost overruns? What precisely will be the timetable and competition for the new design? Who is running the show now, the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee or Abe, and how will compensation to British architect Zaha Hadid affect the total bill?

It would be optimistic to expect the International Olympic Committee bigwigs to assert control over the integrity of the Olympic movement. IOC chief Thomas Bach merely expressed optimism that Japan would deliver the goods.

But this is par for the course. The biggest boondoggle is the Olympic movement itself. Abe should be thanked for questioning ballooning costs, but it should be asked what the value of Japan's promises was when it pitched for the Games.

Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator