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Asia

Opposition overshadows Tokyo Olympics excitement

After rejoicing over Tokyo being chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the euphoria has worn off and questions are being asked about costs, environmental damage and Fukushima-related health issues.

After a hard-fought campaign to win the right to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Tokyo celebrated.

There were tears in the eyes of the delegates in Buenos Aires when Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, revealed on September 7 that the Japanese capital had beaten off competition from Madrid and Istanbul for the right to host the biggest and most prestigious sporting event on the planet. Revellers in bars and restaurants across Tokyo erupted when the news was announced, despite the time difference making it early on Sunday morning here, with euphoric party-goers spilling out onto the streets.

Now the hangover brought on by actually winning the right to stage the games has worn off, the reality of what needs to be achieved over the next seven years has hit home. And the scale of the Games, the cost and the likely impact have all come as something of a shock to plenty of people.

On October 23, Hakubun Shimomura, the minister who has been given the task of laying the foundations for a successful Games, admitted in parliament that the initial cost estimated for the new national stadium may have been inaccurate.

The Japan Sport Council had initially asked for bids for a replacement for the aging and old-fashioned national stadium - built as the center-piece of the 1964 Games, the last time Japan hosted the summer Olympics - to be capped at Y130 billion (967 million euros).

Ballooning cost estimates

An aerial view shows people sitting in formation to the words thank you and displaying signs that collectively read Arigato (Thank You) during an event celebrating Tokyo being chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 8, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Kyodo)

Tokyo residents rejoiced in September when they received green light to host the 2020 Olympic Games

In response to a question during a session of the House of Councilors Budget Committee, Shimomura admitted that a more realistic figure for the completed project is 2.23 billion euros. And that figure is just too rich for a government already struggling with a prolonged economic downturn and paying for the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and nuclear disaster in north-east Japan.

"As the project is so massive, we need to rethink this, to scale it down," Shimomura said of the 80,000-seat stadium, designed by British architect Zaha Hadid. "Urban planning must meet the needs of the people."

And while any review will be likely to retain the futuristic design of the stadium, it appears that the government is aiming to reduce the overall price tag by limiting related infrastructure, including passageways, to nearby stations.

It is not only the cost of the stadium that has attracted attention.

In the August edition of the respected Japan Institute of Architects Magazine, award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki declared that the 70-meter high stadium, with a total floor space of 290,000 square meters, is simply too large for the 11-hectare site. A further complaint is that the structure is out of keeping with the surrounding area, which includes the protected landscapes of Jingu Gaien Park.

"It's a complete mismatch," he wrote, adding in a subsequent article in the Mainichi newspaper that the biggest main Olympic venue ever constructed would be difficult to evacuate in the event of an earthquake.

Kayak course controversy

Elsewhere, a petition has been started on the Change.org web site calling on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to find an alternative site to the Kasai Rinkai Park for the Olympic canoeing and kayaking events.

"We don't mean to be against holding the Olympic Games in our country, but what we mean is 'the Olympic games' - probably the world's greatest festival of love, peace and sport - can't be the reason to demolish nature and take over the home of wildlife," Yokohama housewife Shizuka Watahiki stated in the petition, which quickly collected more than 15,000 signatures.

model of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo - press pictures from the official website of tokyo2020.jp

Critics say the stadium will eat up too much of the landscape

The petition points out that the park is home to 226 species of bird, 140 types of insect and 223 different botanical species and is an oasis for flora and fauna alongside Tokyo Bay.

"Literally, Kasai Rinkai Park is a cradle for all the living things in the coastal area of Tokyo," the petition states, adding that 24 years of hard work to develop the site is at risk for competitions that will last a mere five days.

Yet another group is issuing warnings about the games, warning that it has found elevated levels of radiation at the majority of the 39 venues that have been selected for 2020.

"We found cesium-137 at almost every place we carried out tests, and there was no cesium here before the accident at Fukushima," said Mitsuo Tanaka, a member of the Citizens' Group for Measuring Radioactive Environment at Facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Contaminated food

"According to our calculations, atmospheric radiation is now two or three times levels it was before the accident," he said. "And we have not yet had time to study the impact it has had on the food that we eat."

"I think that will become the biggest problem," he added.

Measurements were taken at venues that have been earmarked to stage events - including the Kasumigaseki Country Club, which will host the golf tournament and the Asaka Shooting range - as well as at the planned site of the Olympic Village and the media center.

A general view of Mihama nuclear power station No 1 reactor (R), No 2 reactor (C) and No 3 reactor (L) which is run by Kansai Electric Power Co, on March 8, 2012 in Mihama, Japan. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Japan is regularly hit by earthquakes which can trigger tsunamis

The highest radiation reading - 0.484 microsieverts per hour - was detected in undergrowth close to Yumenoshima Stadium, where the equestrian events will be held.

Soil samples collected at the site contained 3,040 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, Tanaka said.

In a statement, a spokesman for Tokyo 2020 played down the group's findings, reiterating the national government's position that "radiation levels in the air and water of Tokyo are safe.

"Measures have been done even before the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, and they show that radiation levels in Tokyo are absolutely safe and normal - comparable with levels in other major cities, like London, New York and Paris," the spokesman said.

"As promised in our bid campaign, we will do everything to deliver superb Games, as well as provide an ideal stage for all athletes, in 2020," he added.

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