November 16, 2015 / 6:35 AM / 4 years ago

Japan finalizes late start to Olympic stadium after delays

TOKYO (Reuters) - As Japan struggles to get its Olympics plans on track, officials confirmed on Monday that construction of its new national stadium will start in 2017, the tail end of its previously stated time frame, after a series of delays.

A Japan Sport Council official overlooks the empty site of the planned national stadium, the centrepiece of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, in Tokyo, November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The confirmation of the start date for building the centerpiece of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games comes at a time when Japan has slid back into recession as its fragile economy struggles with declining capital expenditure and sluggish investments.

An outcry by the public over soaring costs led to the scrapping of the stadium design this summer. It was the first in a series of embarrassments in a nation long known for its efficiency and timeliness, a reputation that helped it win the opportunity to host the Summer Games over Madrid and Istanbul in 2013.

After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scrapped the futuristic design by UK-based Zaha Hadid Architects amid furor over the costs, then estimated at 265.1 billion yen ($2.17 billion), the International Olympic Committee intervened and called for a January 2020 completion time.

The stadium was originally set to be completed in time to host key matches of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the delay prompted outrage among rugby officials. The rugby matches will now be held in the neighboring city of Yokohama.

Japan’s sports minister Hakubun Shimomura resigned after Abe scrapped plans for the stadium design.

In another blow to its reputation, Olympic organizers scrapped the Games logo in early September over accusations of plagiarism.

The stadium, now estimated to cost 155 billion yen ($1.26 billion), still has no design plan. A competition is to be held for a new design with a decision due in December.

“It’s true that this is quite late compared to the original plan,” said Takakuni Ikeda, vice president of the Japan Sport Council, which runs the stadium. He noted that a new timetable had been released in August, after the previous design was scrapped.

The new stadium will replace Tokyo’s old structure which was built to host the 1964 Summer Games. There was a delay in demolition of the old stadium as well.

The site is now a huge hole in the ground, covered with clover and dotted with puddles.

“We believe there will be no problems keeping to the schedule,” Ikeda added.

(This story has been corrected in headline and first paragraph to state that Japan has finalized a construction start date that is at the end of its stated time frame)

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kavita Chandran

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