By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee may well welcome Japan's decision to scrap and completely revise plans for its controversial National Stadium since the move will save money, the head of the Tokyo games organizing group said on Wednesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that he had decided to take the stadium plans back to square one in the face of growing public outrage over ballooning costs, as his support rates took a hit over unpopular defense bills.
The sudden decision over the stadium, designed by U.K.-based architect Zaha Hadid and set to be the centerpiece for the 2020 Summer Olympics, took many by surprise and became the latest in a series of broken promises connected to the event.
But Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said substantial savings on the stadium -- projected to cost some $2 billion, nearly twice original estimates -- fit right in to the IOC's new cost-cutting policy, Agenda 2020.
Mori acknowledged that the futuristic stadium design had probably helped Tokyo beat off Istanbul and Madrid to be awarded the Games in 2013 but that the IOC was likely to approve the revised plans at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur later this month.
"If the decision was made to save money, it should go right in line with the IOC's Agenda 2020," Mori told a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Many nations have downsized stadium projects but it is highly unusual to change plans completely at this stage and risks damaging the can-do reputation that was one of the reasons Tokyo won the games.
NEW RUGBY HOME
IOC president Thomas Bach said last week that he had confidence Tokyo would build the new stadium in time but the decision means that the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was also set to use the arena, will have to find a new home.
Tokyo has already backed away from another pledge that helped it win the hosting rights, that most of the venues will be located within 8 km of the Olympic Village, to save money by using pre-existing venues.
Amid a flurry of finger-pointing, a committee headed by Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo that also includes Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga met for the first time on Tuesday to tackle the issue.
A general list of key points needed in the new stadium, along with a rough estimate of costs, would be drawn up over the next few months, with a competition to choose a new design set for the autumn, officials say.
A decision should come by the end of the year, with construction set to start in early 2016.
No cost targets have been set, though Suga has said it should be "as cheap as possible."
Officials had agreed to build the stadium for 253 billion yen ($2.04 billion) just over a week before Abe's decision, up from 130 billion yen in Tokyo's bid documents.
Mori said he was not at fault and that working to pull together a new plan is more important at this point than assigning blame for the woes involving the previous design, which he last week likened to a "drooping raw oyster".
"Speaking honestly, I never liked the design," Mori said on Wednesday. "But at that point it had already been decided and it was not my place to speak."
(Additional reporting by Megumi Lim; Editing by John O'Brien)