By Nick Butler

Protesters were campaigning against plans to build a new National Stadium in place of the existing one ©Tokyo 2020Resistance against the new National Stadium in Tokyo, the proposed centrepiece of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, has stepped up a notch today after around 500 protesters demonstrated in the Japanese capital.

The proposed 80,000-seat stadium, designed by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who also designed the Aquatics Centre of London 2012, has received mounting criticism in recent months for being too big and expensive, and likely to harm the local environment. 

Following the setting up of two separate petitions against the plans by rival architects, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe offered an olive branch to these critics by insisting the current plans would be "revised".

The Japan Sports Council also announced plans to downscale the Stadium, with a new budget totalling JPY¥162.5 billion (£956 million/$1.6 billion/€1.1 billion) being announced, almost 50 per cent less than original projections.

This was not enough to appease the critics, thouhg, who instead want the Government to upgrade, rather than replace, the existing 48,000 seater Stadium, which hosted the 1964 Olympics, the last time the Japanese capital held the Games.

The larger of the two petitions, introduced by leading architects Fumihiko Maki and Toyo Ito and has garnered over 15,200 signatures, urged the consideration of this and other "greener and more democratic options".

An artists impression of what the new National Stadium in Tokyo will look like ©Japan Sports CouncilAn artists impression of what the new National Stadium in Tokyo will look like
©Japan Sports Council

Demolition work at the old Stadium is due to begin later this month and to be completed in time to host the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which is taking place in Japan. 

Many of the protesters, who gathered outside the Stadium today, appeared to have even more radical demands, carrying banners which read: "We want a compact and economical Olympics" and "Reverse the 2020 Tokyo Olympics".

Karen Severns, an independent architectural scholar who took part in the demonstration, insisted that the "new Sstadium design was outsized and an infringement given the focus is on an Olympics that pays attention to not overspending".

Similar sentiments were offered by another figure involved in the opposition movement, Kazuhisa Oriyama, who insisted "the organisers need to reconsider their plans and make the public part of decision-making process".

But, despite the protests, it still appears unlikely that more wholesale changes will take place to the initial venue plans submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ahead of Tokyo being awarded the Games last September.

The protest comes shortly after a Coordination Commission meeting late last month in which the IOC were updated on the latest plans ©AFP/Getty ImagesThe protest comes shortly after a Coordination Commission meeting late last month in which the IOC were updated on the latest plans ©AFP/Getty Images

During the IOC Coordination Commission last month, IOC vice-president John Coates insisted that changes to venues will only be allowed to be made with the full support of the sport's world governing bodies.

More generally, the protests against the scale of the plans comes at an interesting time in an Olympic Movement in the grips of the Agenda 2020 reform process, a major component of which is making the Games more sustainable for host cities. 

Several cities, including Stockholm and Kraków, have dropped out of the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics because of these concerns, while one of the three remaining applicants, Oslo, is still dogged by similar fears.

The fact that Japan, still the world's third largest economy in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) behind only the United States and China, is not immune to these worries further underlines the scale of the problem.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
June 2014: Tokyo 2020 warned they must get support from International Federations for any venue changes
June 2014: Tokyo 2020 revising Olympic venue plans to combat spiralling costs
May 2014: Tokyo says sayonara to National Stadium as row over redesign continues
May 2014: Downscaled design approved for Tokyo 2020 Stadium
May 2014: Second petition launched against "too big and too expensive" Zaha Hadid-designed Tokyo 2020 stadium