2019 Japanese World Cup host venue in doubt

World Rugby bosses have asked for urgent talks with organisers of the 2019
rugby World Cup after Japan unexpectedly announced that the proposed new national
stadium won’t be ready in time for the tournament.

Japan won the right to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the final was expected
to be played in a new 80,000-seat stadium in Tokyo which will also form the
centrepiece of the 2020 Olympics.

The Rugby World Cup opening match and the Rugby World Cup final were both expected
to be held at the new stadium in 2019.

However Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday that the original
stadium design has now been scrapped because of escalating costs and predictions that it will not be ready in time.

“I have decided we must go back to the drawing board,” Abe told reporters
after meeting top Japanese sports officials.

“We have looked at the logistics and construction period and I have made
this decision because I was assured that we can definitely complete construction
on time.”

“We must control costs as far as possible,” he added.

“We are determined to draw up the best possible plan, and we have to
draft that plan as quickly as possible.”

A statement from World Rugby said that the announcement had taken them by surprise
and was not in line with what they had been told on several occasions.

“World Rugby is extremely disappointed by today’s announcement that the
new National Stadium will not be ready to host Rugby World Cup 2019 matches
despite repeated assurances to contrary from the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising
Committee and Japan Sports Council,” said World Rugby in a statement.

“The National Stadium was a compelling and important pillar of Japan’s
successful bid to host Rugby World Cup 2019, which was awarded to the Japan
Rugby Football Union in 2009.”

Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s futuristic design had been met with fury
by many Japanese architects. What began as a cosmetic row gave way to widespread
discontent and public bickering over finances.

Sports Minister Hakubun Shimomura said a new bidding process would be launched.
“We will decide the design in six months,” he told reporters.

“From design to completion of construction, 50-plus months is looked at.
The aim is to finish it by the spring of 2020.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had noted the decision and
indicated it would closely follow the new stadium plan to make sure the Olympic
deal is kept.

“The National Stadium is a national project, which will serve the people
of Japan for many years to come. This is why the Japanese government is best
placed to decide on what is appropriate for this venue,” said John Coates,
an IOC vice president and head of the coordinating commission for Tokyo.

“We understand that the review of the stadium will not affect its delivery
for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we will work with the Tokyo 2020 Organising
Committee to ensure that what is needed for the Games is delivered in the revised
plan,” he added.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup became an early casualty of the U-turn with organisers
forced to find alternative venues in Tokyo or Yokohama for the final and other
matches.

“Unfortunately we cannot build the stadium in time for the rugby World
Cup,” said Abe, whose approval rating has plunged in recent months.

“But the government remains fully committed to supporting the tournament.”

Construction costs for the new National Stadium have nearly doubled to 252
billion yen ($2.03 billion), which puts it on track to become the world’s most
expensive stadium.

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