By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - The firm of architects whose design for Japan's new Olympic stadium was scrapped said the ballooning costs that doomed their plan were due partly to an uncompetitive selection of contractors and that warnings about this were ignored.
U.K.-based Zaha Hadid also said on Tuesday it had initially learned that Japan was going "back to zero" on the stadium plan through news reports, and that it later received a "brief official notice" from the Japan Sport Council (JSC), which owns and runs the stadium, of the decision.
Costs for the New National Stadium, set to be the centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, soared to $2.1 billion, nearly twice original estimates, sparking widespread outrage that prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide nearly two weeks ago to abandon the Zaha Hadid design.
The company said in a statement, however, that it had worked to reduce cost estimates after its design was selected in an international competition in 2012 and had been approved by the JSC.
It said sharp rises in construction costs in Japan, the need to have the stadium completed by a fixed date and the use of a two-stage tender process, in which the contractor was named before any invitation to submit cost estimates and without any international competition, helped inflate costs.
"Our warning was not heeded that selecting contractors too early in a heated construction market and without sufficient competition would lead to an overly high estimate of the cost of construction," the statement added.
Officials at the JSC were not immediately able to comment.
The decision to abandon the design for the stadium also meant that key matches in the 2019 rugby World Cup are without a home, damaging Japan's reputation for organizational prowess, especially in the sporting world.
Japanese officials have said the original design for the stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2020 Summer Games, helped Tokyo win the right to host the Olympics in 2013.
But the futuristic design, derided as a bicycle helmet, its vast scale and the two massive arches running the full length of the structure were blamed for the soaring costs, sparking a backlash that threatened to become a political burden for Abe at a delicate time when he was passing other key policies.
The architects said that going back to the drawing board and holding a new design competition, as Japan has said it will do, will not help the fundamental problems and may even worsen things.
"Due to the rising cost of building in Tokyo, further delays and a rushed design process, led by a construction contractor, risk producing a lower standard National Stadium with limited future usage," the statement said, adding that the company has offered its services to Japan as it reviews plans.
Japan's Olympics Minister said last week that nothing has been decided about what they want in the new stadium, including its cost. The government says construction is set to begin early next year and finish in 2020.
In the latest in a series of woes to hit the stadium, the Education and Sports Ministry said on Tuesday the official tasked with overseeing construction of the stadium is set to resign in what Education and Sports Minister Hakubun Shimomura called a standard personnel reshuffle.
Japan has already paid out around 5.9 billion yen ($47.62 million) to Hadid, other architects and construction firms, media reports say, with little of that money likely to be recovered.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Ed Osmond)