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The Making of Japan’s Olympics Stadium Scandal

Candidate CityBy Nobuaki Masaki

SNA (Tokyo) — In advance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision on July 17 to take the 2020 Olympics national stadium construction plans back to a “zero base,” matters had been creeping along quietly and largely outside of public notice. It is therefore of considerable value to look back at the development of this slow-burning scandal so as to understand how the situation arrived at the point where it stands now.

In 2010, a report by Kume Sekkei, an architectural firm, revealed that a renovation of the old Olympics stadium would cost around 70 billion yen (US$565 million). However, the authorities (at that time under the Democratic Party of Japan government) rejected the option of upgrading the old stadium in favor of constructing a new one. The timeline of major developments after that is as follows:


July 27: The Japan Sport Council (JSC) releases the application guidelines of the design competition for the new stadium. Tadao Ando will be the head of the judging committee. The winner of the competition will be awarded 20 million yen (US$160,000). Japan seeks to finalize its stadium plans by March 2015, start construction by October 2015, and finish the stadium by March 2019, in time for the Rugby World Cup.

November 15: Zaha Hadid wins first prize in the design competition. She will supervise the planning and the construction of the stadium.


January 7: Japan’s Candidature File for the Olympics, containing an outline of the stadium, is submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, the JSC will only create the basic plans of the stadium starting from April 2013.

September 3: Tokyo wins the bid to host the 2020 Olympics ahead of Istanbul and Madrid. Madrid ironically boasted a low cost Olympics.

October 23: It is revealed by Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura that stadium expenses have reached 300 billion yen (US$2.42 billion). He expresses his intention to reduce costs while keeping intact Hadid’s design.

November 26: The JSC releases a new plan of the stadium that will decrease its area by 25%. Expenses are now said to be 178.5 billion yen (US$1.44 billion).

December 28: The JSC sets the upper limit of expenses to 169.9 billion yen (US$1.37 billion).


May 28: The panel of experts in the JSC approves the basic plans for the stadium, which is now said to cost 162.5 billion yen (US$1.31 billion).


March 3: Construction companies contracted with JSC begin demolishing the old stadium. Demolition was originally scheduled to start in the summer of 2014.

May 15: Demolition of the old stadium is completed.

May 18: In a meeting with Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, Education Minister Shimomura reveals that the roof of the stadium will not be ready in time for the Olympics. The minister also asks the governor to supply 50 billion yen (US$403 million)  from Tokyo’s own budget to build the stadium. This transaction will be illegal unless laws are changed.

June 8: Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, asks Japan to resolve the delay of the stadium plans as soon as possible. He blames the Japanese government for not being able to make its decisions quickly.

June 29: Education Minister Shimomura reveals that expenses have risen to 252 billion yen (US$2.03 billion) due to rising labor and material costs. He expresses his intention to, apart from the 50 billion yen  (US$403 million) that the city of Tokyo will pay, obtain money from naming rights, charity, and the sports lottery Toto.

July 16: Tadao Ando defends himself from allegations that his decision to adopt Hadid’s design led to rising costs. He says that costs were not an issue in the selection process, and that he also wants to know why they have risen. He emphasizes that he wants Hadid to remain as supervisor, since the JSC contracted with her when Ando chose her design.

July 17: Prime Minister Abe decides to restart the selection process from scratch. He says that he is confident of the stadium being ready for the Olympics, but also says that it will not be ready for the Rugby World Cup. Education Minister Shimomura says that he will reopen the competition, choose a new design in the next six months, and finish construction by the spring of 2020.

July 21: The JSC reveals that it had paid its contractors almost 6 billion yen (US$48.4 million) before Hadid’s plan was scrapped by the government, and claims that a significant portion of those fees cannot be returned.

July 28: Education Minister Shimomura orders Kimito Kubo, the Education Ministry official responsible for planning the construction of the stadium, to resign. Some members of the Diet are wary of the minister laying the blame on his subordinates.

July 29: Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, now president of Japan’s Olympics organizing committee, gains approval from the IOC to restart the selection process for the stadium following his speech in front of the IOC Board of Directors in Kuala Lumpur.

August 7: It is revealed by the inspection committee that the JSC ignored cost estimations by the companies that made the plans for Hadid’s design. Following the approval of the basic plans made in 2014, Education Minister Shimomura reported that the stadium will only cost 162.5 billion yen (US$1.31 billion), while the companies allegedly reported to the JSC in the same period that expenses would reach 300 billion yen (US$2.42 billion). There are also allegations that the JSC previously deleted parts of its records before disclosing them to the public.

Nobuaki Masaki is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.