RWC dream 'can't happen' - critic

By Derek Cheng, Jarrod Booker, Amelia Wade

Silt underneath the PKMC stand (Left) and destroyed roads outside the AMI Stadium. Photos / Sarah Ivey, Greg Bowker
Silt underneath the PKMC stand (Left) and destroyed roads outside the AMI Stadium. Photos / Sarah Ivey, Greg Bowker

Christchurch can in "no way" host Rugby World Cup matches - a "harsh, brutal truth" that officials need to face up to, says an international rugby expert.

British rugby writer Peter Bills says that even if AMI Stadium can be repaired in time, the city is too unsafe for the International Rugby Board to feel comfortable sending teams and thousands of fans into the region because it's impossible to guarantee there won't be another destructive quake.

"Even if the wrecked infrastructure, the damaged buildings, hotels and roads in the city centre and the ruined facilities such as sewerage and water can be repaired in record-fast time, there is no way any World Cup games can be played in the city.

"That is the harsh, brutal truth but it has to be said," Bills wrote in a column for the Independent Group of newspapers. "It just cannot happen ... It is tragic for Christchurch."

Prime Minister John Key yesterday toured the stadium and said: "The turf is in a complete mess ...

There are mounds and humps and hollows everywhere on the thing - it's a complete and utter mess."

Mr Key said the IRB was being supportive and wanted to give the Government breathing space.

"We've built up a lot of goodwill and capital with the IRB. They have been out in New Zealand extensively for the last few years.

"I've met them every time they have been in New Zealand. I think they are quite sympathetic to the issues we are facing and they will probably take some lead from us."

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully yesterday received a verbal report on the state of the stadium, but said he was not expecting full engineering reports on the damage until the weekend.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported this week that there was "a growing sense that the IRB would have no choice but to take matches elsewhere". That report was dismissed by the Government.

But Bills believes the only conclusion the IRB will come to is that the seven games scheduled to be played in Christchurch will be moved elsewhere.

"After two earthquakes and many after-shocks in the Christchurch area over the past six months, who on earth could make a decision to go ahead with inviting thousands of overseas rugby supporters into the region, guaranteeing that there would not be another quake?" Bills said.

He believes Cup organisers will soon have to accept that even if the stadium can be repaired, the risk of loss of life is too great for the matches to stay in the city.

"Sadly for Christchurch, Rugby World Cup officials should make an early and decisive decision with regard to the seven matches scheduled for the city.

"That decision will be extremely painful to the rugby fans of the South Island city. But there is only one decision that can be made. The matches have to be played elsewhere in New Zealand."

Teams scheduled to stay in Christchurch - England, Australia, Argentina and Georgia - are in limbo as they wait to see if the city is able to host the tournament, and if their hotels will still be standing.

QEII stadium, which the English had planned to use as a training centre, has also been badly damaged and some of its stands have been red-stickered by the city council.

A red-sticker means no access is allowed, though it does not necessarily mean the site is beyond repair.

Mr McCully said if AMI Stadium could be salvaged, infrastructure and accommodation would then be looked at. Even before the quake there was not enough accommodation to meet demand, and the challenge ahead was now much bigger.

The IRB would makes its decision based on professional engineering reports and advice on accommodation availability.

Mr McCully said reports that he was expecting would be passed on to the board.

This week, the Herald visited the AMI Stadium, which was rocked by last month's 6.3-magnitude earthquake, and found cracked concrete, carpets of silt and a 20m crack up the side of the Hadlee Stand.

Christchurch is scheduled to host five pool matches and two quarterfinals.

The English team are scheduled to stay at the Crowne Plaza and the state of that hotel is still not known.

A hotel notice says it is damaged and will remain closed until a detailed assessment can be done by authorities.

A spokesman for the Rugby Football Union said the England camp would make a fresh "recce" of available facilities elsewhere if Christchurch was declared off-limits.

The Australian rugby team are to stay during the Cup at the Millennium Hotel, which is also in the cordoned-off part of central Christchurch.

Matt Taplin, vice-president of operations for Millennium and Copthorne Hotels, told the Herald no access had been allowed to any of the chain's three properties in the inner city.

The Wallabies' training base at Rugby Park seems to have come through the quake undamaged, and the local Crusaders team will return to training there from next week.

- NZ Herald

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