By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - The final design for Tokyo's new National Stadium, the centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Olympic games, is currently expected at the start of July but could be delayed, Japanese officials said on Friday.
But they said the stadium would definitely be finished in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and that Tokyo has no intention of scrapping the current design and starting again from scratch, as some critics have suggested.
Construction of the new National Stadium has run into numerous problems, including skyrocketing costs and demolition delays that have prompted speculation it might not be finished in time, as well as feuding over who will pay what for it.
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who also holds the sports portfolio, said Japan was consulting with the company of architect Zaha Hadid on a design aimed at cutting costs, with the final decision and contract expected at the start of July.
Though the Olympics are not until July 2020, the stadium is also set to be used for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which begins almost a year earlier. Hadid designed the aquatics center for the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
"At this point we expect that a contract will be concluded at the start of July, but we're still exploring cost cuts and revisions, and if a better plan emerges later the contract could also slip to later," Shimomura told a news conference.
"The absolute priority is that the stadium must be finished by the spring of 2019, and then that costs be cut."
From the start, the stadium has been sharply criticized for its size and design, which critics, including international prize-winning architects, say is unsuited to the downtown Tokyo neighborhood where it will be built.
Soaring costs have also prompted several downsizing proposals, including postponing the installation of a retractable roof until after the Games and making a number of stadium seats temporary.
A recent Japanese media report even suggested that Tokyo might look into breaking the current contract and starting again if things don't work out.
The problems have drawn the attention of International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who said on Monday that he wanted Japan to settle plans soon.
NOT STARTING OVER
Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said at a news conference that Shimomura assured him that Japan has no intention of starting over on the stadium design.
"It would be even more delayed, and this would draw international criticism too," Mori said on Friday.
"So the design will be respected but costs will be cut as much as possible, and it will definitely be finished by 2019, before the Rugby World Cup. That's what he said, and I told him to carry on."
In May, Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe lashed out at being asked to foot $400 million of the stadium cost without further details of plans and how the money will be spent, calling the expense "ridiculous." The Games were won under his predecessor, who was forced to quit due to a bribery scandal.
Masuzoe and Shimomura remain at odds over the issue, and Shimomura said on Friday that until the plans are finalised, he can give Masuzoe no final cost estimates.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said that recent venue changes, approved by the IOC earlier this week, have cut some 170 billion yen ($1.38 billion) of overall expenses for the games. Mori added that still more budget cuts had been made previously.
"Bidding for the Olympics was something that Tokyo pushed for, as was advancing that bid. The governors have changed, that is true, but the bid and accepting the games has not," he said.
"This is certainly something that Masuzoe knew when he ran for governor and won election."
($1 = 123.5300 yen)
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)