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opinion | Mark Pothier

What Japan’s Olympic stadium fiasco means for Boston

Japan Sport Council via AP

Most days, Boston 2024 members only have to look in their own backyards — or Widett Circle or Squantum — to find their next public relations challenge. On Friday, the negative publicity came all the way from Tokyo. The Japanese government said it would scuttle plans to build an 80,000 showcase stadium for the 2020 Summer Olympics after the price tag had nearly doubled to a stunning $2 billion. At one point, estimates were even higher. Aside from the expense, critics said the venue resembled a giant bike helmet. (That’s better than looking like giant bike pants.) Arata Isozaki, a revered Japanese architect, wrote a letter to Olympics organizers in which he described the stadium as “a dull, slow form, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had apparently seen and heard enough. Designers will now try to come up with something less extravagant — perhaps a cozy starter-stadium in the billion dollar range.

Almost immediately, opponents of Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games seized upon the Japan stadium decision to boost their cause.

“Another reason boston should #pullthebid #NoBoston2024 costs can’t be contained,” read one tweet.

On the No Boston Olympics Facebook page, someone commented, “If the Japanese, a model of efficiency, are going through this, what can we expect here in Massachusetts, home of the Big Dig?”​

There are surely lessons to be learned from the $2 billion stadium fiasco, but direct comparisons such as this often end up being of the “apples and oranges” variety. Unlike the temporary stadium envisioned for Boston, Tokyo’s futuristic structure was overblown from the start, at odds with the International Olympic Committee’s directive to build more practical facilities. As for that Japanese model of efficiency, the country just came out of its latest recession at the end of last year. Meantime, the United States economy keeps chugging along.


Not that I’m comparing.

Mark Pothier can be reached at mark.pothier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @markpothier.