Japan's Endo faces finance, feuding and stadium fuss

Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:43am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan appointed its first Olympics minister on Thursday, naming a veteran politician to a cabinet post created just last month to guide the country through preparations for the 2020 Summer Games - and a host of thorny issues.

Though Tokyo won the games largely due to its organizational prowess, the last year has seen the rolling back of bid promises of a cosy, downtown event, ballooning construction costs and messy arguments between Tokyo and the national government over the tab for the new National Stadium.

Taking the post is Toshiaki Endo, 65, a lawmaker of 22 years who has worked on sports policy, been a senior vice minister in the Education Ministry and plays rugby.

"The prime minister told me to keep in close contact with all the appropriate cabinet ministers, as well as the Tokyo government, and work hard," Endo told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

One of Endo's first tasks is likely to be a decision on the final design for the National Stadium, currently the center of a firestorm over its ballooning costs and what critics say is a general lack of fit with its site in downtown Tokyo, where the now-demolished stadium used for the 1964 Olympics stood.

Designed by Zaha Hadid, who planned the aquatics center for the 2012 London Olympics, plans for the massive, futuristic stadium were chosen in an international contest by a committee led by noted Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

"He wanted the stadium to be something that would show off Japanese skills to the world, so he chose an extremely difficult design that has ultimately increased costs and construction time," said Hitoshi Sakai, head of the Institute for Social Engineering think tank and a veteran of Tokyo's failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

The stadium price was 130 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in Tokyo's bid documents but estimates soared to 300 billion yen last year, prompting officials to scale back the design.   Continued...