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  • Op-Ed: Rugby Triggers $2 Billion Tokyo Olympic Stadium Controversy


    Work on the national stadium gets under way in October (ATR)
    (ATR) It’s the game they play in heaven – and rugby certainly holds a celestial position in the top ranks at Tokyo 2020.

    Its leaders share a love of rugby – and rugby analogies, and the desire to showcase Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup to the world has been the catalyst for a $2 billion stadium and the controversy that has come with it.

    To put it in rugby-speak, the stadium issue has become something of a maul, with the team in possession (Tokyo 2020 and the National Government) attempting to gain territory by driving their opponents (the Tokyo Metropolitan Government) back.

    Leading the charge is the captain, Yoshiro Mori. The 77-year-old former Prime Minister of Japan is the president of Tokyo 2020 as well as vice president of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee. Until last month, Mori was also the president of the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU), stepping down due to his Olympic commitments. Securing the 2019 World Cup was his crowning achievement during his term.

    Mori’s love of rugby dates back to his days at Waseda University where he played the sport. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Mori is said to have compared his political relationships to rugby, saying that – ‘In rugby, one person doesn't become a star, one person plays for all, and all play for one.’

    Bring in the team’s newest player – prop Toshiaki Endo. Recently appointed as the Olympics minister, Endo announced that he intended to form ‘Team Endo’.

    A former rugby player from Chuo University, Endo likened his new Olympic role to being the prop – at the front to tackle opponents. As prop, he is an anchor, providing strength and support – pivotal in a maul.

    Rugby Focus First

    Before the Olympics hit town, Tokyo will be one of 12 cities in Japan to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and it was for this event that the extravagant new National Stadium was designed. British architect Zaha Hadid won the international competition for the design back in 2012, a year before the 2020 Olympics were secured.

    The choice of stadium ultimately came down to the Japan Sport Council (JSC), headed by Ichiro Kono – the team’s inside centre. The former Tokyo 2016 Olympic bid leader used to be assistant coach of the national rugby team. Kono is an executive board member on both the JRFU and the World Rugby Board.

    Together they are a strong team bound by political alliances and aspirations to see rugby in Japan elevated to a level not previously
    Mori is said to have compared his political relationships to rugby (ATR)
    known around the globe.

    On the other side of the maul, and feeling the weight of its force, is Yoichi Masuzoe, Tokyo’s Governor and outspoken opponent to the stadium’s price tag and proposal for the city to shoulder the costs.

    He has shared his concern over the ministry’s ‘request’ for Tokyo to contribute $400 million towards the new stadium, a deal that was supposedly struck by his predecessor Naoki Inose and then Minister for the Olympics, Hakubun Shimomura.

    Construction is set to go ahead on the stadium this October and be finished in May 2019 in time for the Rugby World Cup. Further details on the stadium’s preparations are due to be given on July 7.

    We hope the referees are on stand-by.

    Key Players

    Yoshiro Mori – President Tokyo 2020

    • Former Prime Minister of Japan (5 April 2000 - 26 April 2001)
    • President of the Japan Rugby Football Union (June 2005 – June 2015)
    • Vice President Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee
    • Waseda University (played rugby)

    Toshiaki Endo – Minister for the 2020 Olympics

    • Former minister for education, culture, sports, science and technology
    • Tokyo 2020 Executive Board Member
    • Chuo University (played rugby)
    Ichiro Kono – President Japan Sport Council
    • Executive Board Member, Japan Rugby Football Union
    • Executive Board Member, International Rugby Board
    • Former Japan Rugby National Team Assistant Coach
    Hakubun Shimomura – Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
    • Minister in charge of the 2020 Games (September 2013 – June 2015)
    • Waseda University (same Alma Mater as Mori)
    • Strong political ally to Mori

    On the Bench

    Naoki Inose - Former Governor of Tokyo

    • Former Governor of Tokyo (December 2012 – December 2013)
    • Resigned from his position after a money scandal
    The opposition:
    Yoichi Masuzoe – Governor of Tokyo
    • Governor of Tokyo since 9 February 2014
    • Opposed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government being asked to share stadium costs

    By Alice Wheeler

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