Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: New stadium is real game-changer

An artist's impression of the Tokyo stadium to be open in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
An artist's impression of the Tokyo stadium to be open in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

If the All Blacks reach the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, they will be playing in the most technologically advanced stadium the world has ever seen.

The old national stadium in Toyko, the site of Peter Snell's glorious Olympic double (800m and 1500m) in 1964, is due to be knocked down by 2014 and replaced by the new 80,000 seat venue. The new design features a retractable roof and fully adjustable seating, which slides out to make room for an athletics track, or draws in to bring spectators close to the touchline for a rugby or football match.

"I think it will be the most modern stadium in the world," Japan Rugby Football Union chairman Tatsuzo Yabe told the Herald on Sunday. "We can change the shape by moving the seats - that is one of the most important things and means fans will be as close as possible."

Japan has a history of being able to construct sleek, modern stadia. They built several new venues for the 2002 FIFA World Cup and already boast a facility in Hokkaido that can switch to either a baseball or football venue.

The budget for the new stadium is a cool 130 billion ($1.85 billion), which would also be the most expensive stadium on the globe, surpassing the recently constructed New Meadowlands Stadium in New York, which hosts NFL teams the Giants and the Jets.

The winning design was submitted by London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, after a worldwide competition that eventually attracted 49 submissions. The criteria was strict - apart from the 80,000 capacity, retractable roof and adjustable seating it also had to be environmentally efficient, complement the surrounding landscape, allow for smooth traffic and be ready for 2019. Hadid was the architect of the London Aquatic centre used at the recent Olympics, a focal point of the 2012 Games.

"We hope that the new stadium will become a tourist attraction in its own right," says 2019 Rugby World Cup Organising Committee CEO Koji Tokumasu. "It should be a spectacular structure and is a superb location with five metro stations within five minutes' walk."

It is ambitious undertaking and there are already some concerns about the budget, especially as the cost of the Hadid-designed Aquatic centre in London blew out from an original estimate of £72 million ($141 million) to £270 million.

Still, the Japanese approach differs markedly from New Zealand's stop-gap, half-measure approach for 2011 in partially renovating Eden Park.

"The National Stadium was built in 1958 so we had to update it," says Tokumasu, "you have to progress otherwise you will never get future FIFA World Cups or other big worldwide events. The most important thing in today's economy is to not spend too much money that will not last after the World Cup. If you make a stadium with extra seats and it stays forever, that will be good. But if it is just temporary that is no good."

Construction of the new stadium, which will also host the 2020 Olympics if Japan's bid is successful, is expected to be completed by 2018.

- Herald on Sunday

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