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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Takes Soccer High-Tech

OITA, Japan -- The sleek Big Eye stadium in southwestern Japan is a high-tech wonder sure to please the thousands of soccer fans who will travel to Oita for the World Cup matches the city will host in June.

A retractable dome that opens and closes like a blinking eye will provide cover for the players and spectators should rain fall during a match.

A camera that moves along the ceiling, the first of its kind in the world, will allow fans to watch replays from angles never seen before, and pipes with hot water laid beneath the pitch will keep the grass green, even during the winter.

The 43,000 capacity Big Eye will host the matches between Tunisia and Belgium in Group H on June 10, Mexico versus Italy in Group G on June 13 and a second-round match on June 16.

But to those not so enthusiastic about the World Cup, which is being co-hosted with South Korea from May 31, the arena is nothing but a badly planned money-losing public works project.

More than 25 billion yen ($189.3 million) was spent to build the stadium -- 58 billion if related facilities such as practice pitches and parking lots are included.

It takes 300 million yen per year to run the stadium, but only 50 million was expected in revenue for the year to the end of March, stadium officials said.

The Big Eye was completed in May 2001 on the outskirts of Oita City, the capital of the prefecture of the same name on the southern island of Kyushu.

However, located 800 kilometers from Tokyo, and without a home baseball team, still Japan's most popular sport, there are hardly any events to fill up the stadium.

It is home for Oita Trinita, a second division J-League soccer team, but in the six games it played there last season, the club only attracted an average crowd of 13,800.

A friendly between Japan and Yugoslavia last May, the only international match it has hosted, attracted some 38,000, the biggest crowd for a single event there so far.

Yosuke Nagano, who oversees operations at the stadium, said the 250 million yen ($1.89 million) in red ink is "investment for promoting sports in the region."

But some Oita residents do not feel so generous.

"That sort of spending cannot be justified. The prefecture is in no position to spend so much," said Keizo Nagai, director general of the Oita Ombudsmen's Group.

With the country's economy in recession, local governments have seen their tax revenues dwindle, and borrowings snowball.

"It's spending that does not match one's income," Nagai said.

Oita prefecture officials say they are not expecting to rake in returns from the stadium, adding that it was built to serve the interests of Oita residents.

"We have no intention of attracting 40,000 people all the time. Maybe once or twice a year," said Satoshi Saito, director at the Oita prefectural government's World Cup promotion bureau.

While the climate may be quite different, the Grande 21 stadium in Miyagi prefecture, 300 kilometers north of Tokyo, has striking similarities to the Big Eye.

Completed in March 2000, Grande 21 is also a slick piece of modern architecture, with its roof shaped like a crescent -- the insignia used on the battle armor of a powerful samurai warlord who ruled the area during the feudal period.

The stadium will host the matches between Mexico and Ecuador in Group G on June 9, Sweden against Argentina in Group F on June 12, and a second-round match on June 18.

But few believe the arena with a capacity of over 49,000 will ever see its stands full.

Built in the suburbs of Sendai, the biggest city in the region, the stadium has already become infamous for bad access.

The closest train station is an hour's walk away, and many fans missed the kickoff at a friendly in June 2000 due to the traffic jam leading to the stadium that stretched back 9 kilometers.

"I'm afraid we became known for the bad access," said an official working at Grande 21, adding that the problem was keeping potential users away.

It takes 900 million yen, excluding wages, to run the stadium, while only 1 million yen is expected in revenue, he said.

Officials at Miyagi prefecture said that by hosting the World Cup they hoped to raise Grande 21's profile.

"After the World Cup, it will become more famous. And it is the first stadium of this size in the area. That will be attractive," said Taeko Inomata, section chief at the Miyagi prefectural government's World Cup promotion bureau.

But the Grande 21 official remained skeptical. "Our facilities are too good, so too expensive," he said.