Editorial: Let's make sure hosting the Cup's a pleasure

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Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

The countdown to the Rugby World Cup passed the 100-day milestone this week in good heart. It is still too early for audible and visible excitement to be rising but all the elements appear to be coming into place.

There is no sign of the panic that has become almost routine in countries that host a sports event on this scale, no last-minute flurry of construction or public worry that vital infrastructure will not be finished on time.

It is not only stadiums and big-screen venues that will create the buzz before the kick-off but also amenities such as those nearing completion on the Auckland waterfront, linking the Viaduct Harbour to the redevelopment of the western reclamation.

All around New Zealand, towns and cities will have new spaces for people to share the experience. Even Christchurch, which had planned to use Cathedral Square and streets reduced to rubble on February 22, is arranging its own "party central" in Hagley Park.

The second earthquake will have presented a challenge to tour promotions overseas. All tourism to this country will have felt the impact. But it is too soon to be making excuses. Half the total number of tournament seats have been sold so far, which sounds not bad considering the varied quality of the 48 contests. Most of the local attendance at pool matches will depend on the interest generated when visiting teams arrive in host towns, and the weather on the day.

The only cloud on the horizon at this stage is Fiji. The International Rugby Board is asking the Government to relax the ban on members of the Bainimarama regime and the Government, quite rightly, appears to be standing firm. The event offers the regime a rare opportunity to make Fiji suffer for the sanctions in place for the past five years. But that risk has been predictable for all of that time and the organisers must have contingency plans.

The Fijian team's absence would be keenly felt there and here. Fijians love rugby and the New Zealand organisers have given the event a Pacific flavour. Samoa, Tonga and Fiji should find it almost like playing at home. But it would not be the first time Fijian sportsmen and women have faced the sanctions.

A soccer World Cup qualifying match was moved from New Zealand in 2007 because Fiji's goal-keeper, the son-in-law of a military officer, was refused entry. The same year two Fijians were unable to play in netball's world championships in Auckland.

Sometimes the ban has been tougher on players than officials. The president of Fiji Netball in 2007, Alice Tabete, was allowed in despite having family connections to the military.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said that was why the ban was devised. So such a loophole seems available to the head of the Fiji Rugby Union. John Key said this week, "I think Frank Bainimarama's brother-in-law is running it now, and it would make a bit of a mockery of the sanctions that we have in place."

The Government could take a lenient view of any selected players and bona fide coaching staff caught by the ban, and maintain a hard line on officials. But whatever happens, the World Cup will happen.

As September gets closer the country should realise the scale of this event and make hosting a pleasure.

- NZ Herald

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