Spi­ral­ing costs

$2 bil­lion venue for 2020 Tokyo Olympics shap­ing up as world’s most ex­pen­sive sports sta­dium

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES / WORLD - BY KEN MORIT­SUGU

When the dust set­tles on the mar­quee venue for the 2020 Sum­mer Olympics in Tokyo, it could well be the most ex­pen­sive sports sta­dium in the world.

The latest cost es­ti­mate of 252 bil­lion yen ($2 bil­lion at cur­rent ex­change rates) would push it be­yond the cur­rent record­holder, the $1.6 bil­lion MetLife sta­dium com­pleted in 2010 for the New York Jets and Giants football teams.

What is the money buy­ing? The de­sign of the sta­dium’s ribbed roof on huge steel arches re­sem­bles a bi­cy­cle hel­met. To sup­port a nat­u­ral grass field, the roof ’s south­ern end will be translu­cent to let in sun­light and un­der­ground will be soil ven­ti­la­tion and tem­per­a­ture con­trol sys­tems. Mov­able seats will bring the crowd closer for more in­ti­mate events, and this be­ing Ja­pan, the sta­dium will have earth­quake-re­sis­tant fea­tures.

While ex­change rate fluc­tu­a­tions and in­fla­tion make com­par­isons tricky, it is safe to say that Ja­pan’s new Na­tional Sta­dium will likely to be the most ex­pen­sive ever built, two sports econ­o­mists told The As­so­ci­ated Press. The latest es­ti­mate was a 55 per cent in­crease over an ear­lier one of 163 bil­lion yen.

“The spi­ral­ing costs come as no sur­prise,” Vic­tor Mathe­son, a pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of the Holy Cross in Mas­sachusetts, wrote in an email re­sponse. “Most of the re­cent Olympics Games and World Cups have seen fi­nal costs come in far above ini­tial es­ti­mates.”

An­drew Zim­bal­ist, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at Smith Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts, added that he sus­pects the cost will rise fur­ther dur­ing con­struc­tion, which is due to be­gin in Oc­to­ber.

At least five sta­di­ums cost­ing more than $1 bil­lion have been built world­wide, four for Amer­i­can football and base­ball teams and Wem­b­ley Sta­dium for soc­cer in Lon­don. Tokyo’s new sta­dium, de­signed by award-win­ning ar­chi­tect Zaha Ha­did, would be the first to reach $2 bil­lion. Un­like venues for pro­fes­sional sports teams, which gen­er­ate a steady rev­enue stream, Olympic sta­di­ums risk be­com­ing “white ele­phants,” lit­tle used af­ter their two weeks of glory.

The ris­ing price tag has put the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe on the de­fen­sive, at a time when his ap­proval rat­ings are al­ready slip­ping be­cause of op­po­si­tion to his push to ex­pand the in­ter­na­tional role of Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary. It also doesn’t bode well for Bos­ton and oth­ers bid­ding for the 2024 Olympics, as well as the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s goal of mak­ing fu­ture Olympics more af­ford­able for host cities, Mathe­son said.

“If a mod­ern city like Tokyo with tons of highly de­vel­oped in­fra­struc­ture al­ready in place can’t make an Olympics work with­out break­ing the bank, what chance do any other po­ten­tial host cities have,” he wrote.

The IOC has ap­proved changes in plans for other 2020 venues in Ja­pan that have saved more than $1 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee. The main sta­dium, though, far ex­ceeds the $455 mil­lion “Bird’s Nest” sta­dium built for the 2008 Olympics, and the ap­prox­i­mately $680 mil­lion sta­dium for the 2012 Lon­don Olympics.

Ja­pan is a rich coun­try, but it doesn’t have cash to spare. More than two decades of eco­nomic stag­na­tion have left the gov­ern­ment sad­dled with debt, and the rapidly ag­ing na­tion faces soar­ing pen­sion and health care bills.

Public opin­ion, al­ready tepid about build­ing a mas­sive new sta­dium in cen­tral Tokyo, has turned de­ci­sively neg­a­tive since the gov­ern­ment sharply re­vised up the pro­ject cost. The gov­ern­ment though says it’s too late to make ma­jor changes and still meet a 2019 dead­line to host the inau­gu­ral event, the Rugby World Cup.

The Ja­pan Sports Coun­cil, which is over­see­ing the pro­ject, at­tributes about one-third of the in­crease in price to ris­ing labour and ma­te­ri­als costs, and twothirds to the un­usual de­sign of the sta­dium.

An in­crease in the con­sump­tion tax rate also added about 4 bil­lion yen.

Asked about the cost, Jim Hev­erin, the pro­ject di­rec­tor for the sta­dium for Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects, said in a state­ment that the de­sign al­lows the roof and the spec­ta­tor stands to be built si­mul­ta­ne­ously, sav­ing time and money and “en­sur­ing the sta­dium will be de­liv­ered cost-ef­fec­tively and on sched­ule against the back­drop of steep an­nual in­fla­tion in Tokyo con­struc­tion costs.”

Ja­pan is no stranger to high­priced venues. The 1998 Win­ter Olympics in Nagano were by far the most ex­pen­sive un­til Sochi, Rus­sia, last year, Mathe­son said. Ja­pan also held the record for the most ex­pen­sive World Cup sta­dium — the $621 mil­lion Nissan Sta­dium that hosted the 2002 fi­nal in Yoko­hama — un­til Brasilia built a $900 mil­lion sta­dium for the 2014 tour­na­ment.

Nissan Sta­dium re­mains in use, as the home field for a JLeague soc­cer team, the Yoko­hama F. Mari­nos. The Mane Gar­rin­cha sta­dium in Brasilia, how­ever, is now per­haps the world’s most ex­pen­sive bus de­pot.

AP PHOTO

In this May 13, 2015 file photo, Ja­pan's Na­tional Sta­dium is dis­man­tled for the ren­o­va­tion for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, in Tokyo.

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