Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Eden Park will let down NZ

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Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

World Cup boss Martin Snedden is confident the world will be surprised by Eden Park. He's right, they will be; surprised at just how awful it is; surprised that even some who have forked out $460 run the risk of being drenched.

Eden Park will be the worst stadium to host a World Cup final since ... Eden Park hosted the 1987 final.

All that bickering in 2006 whether to build at the waterfront or Eden Park was shameful enough back then. But it is only now that the true horror of that failure is becoming apparent.

At the cost of $240 million, New Zealand has built an utter dog of a stadium and one that will taint the World Cup.

What will it say about New Zealand when the thousands of overseas fans arrive at the stadium to be greeted by a phalanx of scaffolding hurriedly put up at the back of the east and west ends? How could anyone be impressed by this atrocity; this failure to realise that the world expects more.

In 1999, Wales built the magnificent Millennium Stadium to host the final - a genuine marvel with a sliding roof.

Admittedly built for the Olympics, Australia used Telstra Stadium to host the 2003 event.

The theatre is up there with the best. Stade de France in Paris hosted in 2007. Typically French, it left a sense of awe.

Now it's Eden Park's turn - which is a bit like asking an 18-handicapper to tee off after Tiger Woods. Uncovered seats are a massive no-no at World Cups because people really don't like the idea of enduring rather than enjoying.

Even those who have gone the extra distance to pay for covered seats might find they have been sold a pup. When the Blues played the Highlanders a couple of weeks ago, there was no escaping the rain even for those backed up to the overhang of the bottom tier of the new South Stand.

What should be worrying World Cup officials is this: the massive drop-off in sales the Blues experienced the week after the Highlanders game. The first playoff at Eden Park in eight years and only 16,000 came to see it.

Why? There may be more than one reason but among them is the fact that so many loyal fans were soaked and chilled the previous week; given a stark reminder that Eden Park, even with $240m of investment, has the appeal of a Siberian salt mine.

World Cup organisers better pray it doesn't rain during the pool rounds. Commitments have been made and money collected for those games but how many visitors will be keen to buy knockout round tickets once they have seen Eden Park in its imperfect and in no way endearing reality?

The big picture just hasn't been grasped and New Zealand could pay a massive price for its slavery to the broadcast dollar these last 15 years. The armchair fan has been the only concern in the professional age - every game is televised and every competition structured so no one needs to go to the trouble of actually going to the ground.

Yet the success of the World Cup is totally dependent on persuading people to come to the stadium. Ticket revenue is the only revenue for New Zealand and stands with no roofs and inclement weather make a disturbing combination.

The overseas market will arrive with higher expectations because the competitions over there are still all about the stadium experience. TV is not the God of Everything in the UK, Ireland and France.

Eden Park now has a concourse, more catering facilities, better technology and wider access gates - but to celebrate that too much is to make the same mistake of overly praising the perennially naughty child for making it through the day without incident.

The organisers are excited that Eden Park has now reached the most basic benchmark. But previous World Cup stadia have seen that as a minimum - the trick is to provide some wow factor; to create a visionary piece of engineering and architecture that says something about the pride and ingenuity of the host nation.

Scaffolding that looks like it could fall down; thousands of uncovered and temporary seats and a field that is a hybrid for cricket and rugby - that's what awaits the world and goodness only knows what impression of New Zealand they will draw from that.

Rugby World Cup boss Martin Snedden declined to comment this week but will write a column in response next Sunday. The Eden Park Trust Board chairman could not be reached but a spokesman said comment was unlikely.

- Herald on Sunday

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

Read more by Gregor Paul

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