‘Bicycle Helmet’ Stadium Crashes

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pulled the plug on the new National Stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Photo: Japan Sport Council via AP

Over the past several months, Japanese media have reported the estimated cost of the new stadium doubled to 250 billion yen ($2 billion), or twice as much as the stadium that London built for the 2012 Olympics.

The public reacted negatively, not only because it will be stuck with the bill, but also that no one seems to like the design by UK-based architect Zaha Hadid. In fact, after Abe’s announcement, people related to the bid process and the local organizing committee seemed to line up to state unequivocally that they never liked the design in the first place.

Hadid’s office countered with a vengeance, saying that the cost problems had nothing to do with the design and everything to do with Japan’s lack of transparency when it comes to public works projects. In any case, local media have reported that many sports-related entities had vested interests in the stadium that didn’t have a lot to do with the Olympics. One of these was the local rugby association, which successfully lobbied to get the Rugby World Cup for Japan in 2019.

The new National Stadium was going to be completed in time so that before it hosted the 2020 Olympics, it would provide the venue for the opening ceremony for RWC 2019. Now that the old design has been thrown out, there’s no way a new stadium will be built in time, so the local organizers are frantically trying to find a suitable venue. In the meantime, the Japan Sports Council, which oversees the new stadium project, is going to have to come up with a new plan.

The old National Stadium, originally built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, has already been torn down to make way for Hadid’s “bicycle helmet,” as some media were calling it.

The government has already assembled a panel that will oversee a search for a new design, and it’s not unfeasible that Hadid could be chosen again, as Tadao Ando, Japan’s most famous architect and the head of the committee that selected Hadid’s previous design, has pledged solidarity with the controversial architect. In any case, construction will not begin until spring at the earliest, which means the structure won’t be ready until three months before the Games begin in 2020.

The panel has already said that, to save money, it will forego a retractable roof and other expensive accoutrements that are necessary for the stadium to be used for other activities, such as concerts, thus limiting the uses of the new stadium to sporting events.