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Monday, March 7, 2011

Key: No Rugby World Cup earthquake blowout

Key: No Rugby World Cup earthquake blowout

TRACEY WATKINS AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 14:35 08/03/2011
 
 
Prime Minister John Key says the Government is not preparing for a blowout on the financial loss on the Rugby World Cup in the fallout of the Christchurch earthquake.

The Government has partly underwritten the tournament so will bear some of the losses if ticket sales slump.
Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully admitted today there was likely to be "a pause" in international ticket sales.

Before the both quakes the shortfall was estimated to be around $40m, which the government has partially underwritten.

"We'd never be happy for that loss to grow," Key said. "The reality is we are hosting the tournament, we hope to minimise the loss. In fact we hope to make a gain for New Zealand overall when everything is put into the pot."
Key said he planned to visit the AMI stadium this week.

It is estimated Christchurch could lose around $50m if the games must be moved from the city

McCully would not say what percentage of tickets had already been sold but appeared to remain confident that overseas tourists would want to travel to Christchurch for games despite two severe earthquakes in the space of six months. He was also confident that there wouldn't be a sudden rush of fans wanting to give up their tickets.

There was no indication yet of tickets being cancelled and "I'm sure those who've got tickets will wait a few weeks till we give them good advice".

The Government has said it remains committed to Christchurch hosting the games but is waiting for engineer's reports on the state of the stadium, which has suffered damage despite parts of it being newly-built.

The damage could stop the stadium getting public liability insurance, which would spell a death knell to Christchurch's hopes of hosting World Cup games.

McCully confirmed he would receive engineer's reports on Thursday giving a preliminary assessment.

It was clear parts of the stadium were damaged and liquefaction had caused a noticeable bulge in the playing surface. Key said yesterday that could take months to fix.

A final call on whether games will be played in Christchurch rests with the International Rugby Board (IRB) and McCully said he was grateful for their support.

"They have gone to some trouble to ensure other countries who are obviously concerned about what this means for their team, their fans [hold off]. They're pressing for answers and the IRB have said there won't be any answers for a little while."

Earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee said  the IRB was giving Christchurch ''a fair shot'' in its bid to hold matches there.

Brownlee said he was ''personally very committed'' to holding the games in the city.

"I do think it will be very very important for us to host matches there."

But he said the IRB needs to be ''certain'' that visitors and players would be safe.

''I appreciate that the IRB makes the decision in the end but the rest of the world are going out of their way to help us and I'm sure they will want to do that as well.

''We are satisfied that we are getting a fair shot, so I think we should just let that run.''

Christchurch is due to host five pool matches and two quarterfinals, including the All Blacks' expected showdown against the runners-up of pool B on October 9. But the state of the stadium has already forced the Crusaders to move their home matches.

Brownlee added: '' It obviously going to be a difficult experience in Christchurch but Christchurch, is as Canterbury, a mad passionate place and it would be a great experience.''

McCully, who visited the venue last week, briefed the Cabinet yesterday. Details of the structural assessment could be made public as early as the end of this week.

Last night, Key was careful to clarify that the decision rests ultimately with the IRB.

"We've clarified that point. Having said that, we are looking very closely with them on all of those issues."

Key denied the situation was looking "bleaker."

"I think the biggest issue, ultimately, is the stadium," he said. "We know that there's some damage to the Deans Stand, some damage to the Hadlee Stand, there's liquefaction outside, and the turf has significant liquefaction damage, which means it needs to be rebuilt and that will take quite a number of months."

Once problems with the venue were resolved, transport, accommodation and infrastructure for the games could be examined.

"In the end if we can get a stadium that operates, and that everyone is comfortable with then, yes, we need to deal with accommodation and we need to deal with bars and restaurants and the like. But I think we can address those issues. We won't have a clear answer for a few weeks but we are getting closer."

RWC 2011 communications manager Mike Jaspers said any decision would be made by all parties.

"We are waiting for those reports so we can make an informed judgment in co-operation with everyone who is connected to this," he said.

Key, also the Minister of Tourism, pledged a marketing campaign to bring tourists back to Canterbury.

"There is no point in advertising Christchurch today in a dedicated campaign because we've got substantial work that needs to be done," he said. "But there are lots of things that are planned for the future and there will need to be a very clear international message sent that Christchurch is open for business.

Labour leader Phil Goff said he would like to see Rugby World Cup games remain in Christchurch but people on the ground had expressed doubts that it was possible.

People were concerned about the lack of accommodation and infrastructure to deal with large numbers of visitors, he said.

"We've got to look at that very quickly, make a decision about whether it can be realistically staged there. If it can be good luck to them, it'd be great for the city. If it can't be then obviously you need to make alternative arrangements as quickly as possible.

"We hope for Christchurch it can be done but people have been raising severe doubts with me about that."

The World Cup should not be put above people's basic needs but, economically, it would be good for the city, Goff said.

- Stuff

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