Japan set to revise contentious Olympic stadium plans

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was poised on Friday to announce plans to revise the design of a controversial national stadium, the centrepiece of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, media reports said, after sky-rocketing costs sparked public outrage.

Anger over the stadium, the $2.1 billion price tag of which is almost twice estimates from when Tokyo won the bid for the Summer Games in 2013, has become a liability for Abe as he pushes unpopular defence bills through parliament.

Support for Abe, who returned to office in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan's defences and reboot the economy, has slipped to around 40 percent on voter doubts about the legislation. News about the stadium has fed into that discontent.

The stadium, designed by U.K.-based architect Zaha Hadid and likened to a bicycle helmet, has been slammed as expensive, grandiose and unsuited to its Tokyo site.

"Taking various things into consideration and listening to a variety of opinions, we will take steps to keep this from becoming a burden on the people," Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, told a news conference on Friday.

The government has previously said major cost-cutting changes, including possibly even ditching Hadid's design and going back to the drawing board, would mean the stadium would not be ready in time to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

Abe will make the announcement later on Friday, media said.

The Rugby World Cup will be held in an existing stadium to buy time for more extensive revisions, the reports said.

The stadium was originally estimated to cost 130 billion yen ($1.05 billion), but last month the government confirmed the cost had ballooned to 252 billion yen ($2.03 billion).

Kyodo news agency said revisions would target a total price tag of 180 billion yen ($1.45 billion).

Political experts said the move was clearly aimed at bolstering support rates hit by the furore over the security legislation, which includes changes that would allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Japanese have protested against the legislation, which was approved by parliament's lower house on Thursday. Abe says the changes are essential to meet new security challenges, including a rising China.

"It's pretty blatant," said Steven Reed, a political science professor at Chuo University. "It's a wise play, but whether it will work or not is hard to tell."

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Paul Tait)

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