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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Editorial: Who owns stadium?

Editorial: Who owns stadium?

Last updated 05:00 11/03/2011
OPINION: The question for our Rugby World Cup tsar, Murray McCully, is obvious: who owns AMI Stadium?

No, it is not his Government. Nor is it the overlords of the International Rugby Board (IRB), despite their predilection for regarding the stadiums of a host nation as their little fiefdoms. Rather, the owners of AMI Stadium are the people of Christchurch. And this makes McCully's decision to inform the IRB about the imminent engineering reports on the stadium, before deigning to tell Christchurch residents, reprehensible.

Christchurch has shown since September 4 that it is not only a remarkably resilient city but one with a strong sense of realism. The fact that the stadium was damaged on February 22 is well-known. There is liquefaction on the field and some damage to the Hadlee and Deans stands, which has forced the Crusaders to shift their home games elsewhere.

Inevitably this raises the question of whether the stadium can be repaired in time to host its allocation of seven World Cup games, including two quarter-final matches. Obviously Christchurch will be hoping that it can be fixed in time. After the turmoil and devastation of recent months, the games would be a welcome boost to our spirits, not to mention the local economy.

Clearly there needs to be some clarity about the extent of the damage. Only then can there be debate about whether money and rebuilding resources should be spent on the stadium or on repairing homes. And only once the stadium issue is resolved can the focus shift to tourism infrastructure. A key question here, given the level of damage to the central city, is whether sufficient accommodation can be found for rugby fans, as there were doubts about the city's capacity even before February 22.

There will also have to be some rethinking over the proposed fan zone in Cathedral Square and the walking route from there to the stadium. Some innovative solutions to these issues will be required, which makes it even more imperative that the stadium's engineering reports be released.

The city's cause has not been helped by misleading foreign reports on the state of Christchurch. According to the chief sports writer at a British newspaper, The Telegraph, for example, some 80 per cent of the city's roads are "impassable".

McCully's statement that he would consult with the IRB over the stadium before releasing the engineering reports stands in contrast to the stance of the prime minister. John Key was criticised as being premature, and unnecessarily causing distress for Christchurch residents, when he said 10,000 homes in the city would have to be demolished. He replied that keeping even preliminary information from the public would be treating Canterbury with contempt.

On this basis, Canterbury should also be given, at the first opportunity, any reports on damage to the stadium. We don't need spin once a decision is made, we need facts.

Evidently the Government has based its stance on the view that the Rugby World Cup is a partnership between itself and the IRB. If so, many New Zealanders might feel that it is a one-sided partnership, with this nation too often bowing to the IRB's demands.

In the case of AMI Stadium, precedence should go to the people who built and own it, and that is the people of Christchurch.

- The Press

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