An upbeat Martin Snedden has offered some reassuring words for anyone concerned that New Zealand might not be able to present its best face during the Rugby World Cup. "In lots of ways I wish it was starting tomorrow. But it will be here soon enough. And we are prepared," the Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive says. With only 38 days to go to kick-off, the one remaining question appears to be the sale of tickets, which is at about three-quarters of the organiser's target. Even there, Mr Snedden is unfazed. The buzz once the event starts will have people rushing to make bookings for matches, he says.
If that is so, New Zealanders will surely be immune from any criticism that they have not tried hard enough to make the World Cup a success. As the Weekend Herald reported, this determination extends even to a moratorium on work involving utility, construction and demolition companies between August 15 and October 30. According to Auckland Transport, the city centre, arterial roads and areas around World Cup venues will be affected.
By any yardstick, this is an extraordinary concession to a sporting event. Even the most mundane of work will stop. New work digging up footpaths, for example, will be prohibited. The rule will also capture large construction sites that spill on to footpaths or require traffic diversions.
Understandably, not everyone is impressed.
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"It's absolutely stupid," says the secretary of the Amalgamated Workers Union, Ray Bianchi. "If [work] has to be done, it has to be done. If there's a burst sewer or water main, is it just going to stay there until the stupid game of rugby finishes?"
The Contractors Federation is equally exasperated. Its chief executive, Jeremy Sole, points outs that his members have just been through the global financial crisis hiatus and further pauses in activity before and after the creation of the Super City. Development projects are thin on the ground, and given the circumstances of the past couple of years, some of them peculiar to Auckland, it seems excessive to impose a World Cup hiatus.
Rather than this 77-day overkill, it would surely have been more sensible to restrict any moratorium to the two weeks before the climax of the World Cup. A quiet word with contractors, emphasising that any work should be done as quickly as possible and with the minimum disruption, would have been sufficient for the rest of the period. That aside, Auckland could have been left to function much as normal.
Overseas visitors would surely not be too surprised to see the occasional roadwork or be seriously inconvenienced by it. Many of them, after all, will come from London, where a snapshot survey in March showed 617 roadworks taking place on the city's main thoroughfares. The ensuing traffic jams, possibly a reason for the failure of England's bid for the soccer World Cup, were enough for the city's mayor, Boris Johnson, to declare war on roadworks and their ubiquitous symbol, the orange cone. Even so, it is hard to imagine all such work will be knocked on the head during next year's London Olympics.
In comparison, Auckland's potential problems pale into insignificance. It appears ready for the World Cup, and the country seems ready to receive an expected 85,000 overseas visitors.
Saturday's night's Bledisloe Cup test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies give Eden Park the chance for an excellent dress rehearsal. Mr Snedden's confidence appears well placed. Nothing, after all, seems to be being left to chance in the interests of keeping up appearances.