3 Sep

RWC 2011: Where will the quarter-finals be?
by Tracey Nelson
3 Sep 2008

In its bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand took a campaign theme to the IRB that the tournament would be hosted in a stadium of four million people. It wasn’t just the NZRU backing this message, it was supported by the New Zealand government who are underwriting the tournament to the tune of $30 million dollars of our tax-payer money. But on the eve of the announcement of which cities will be hosting quarter-finals, just how many of our nation of four million will actually be getting a piece of the RWC pie?

Auckland’s Eden Park has already been committed to hosting the two semi-finals and the final, on the back of stadium capacity (62,000 for the RWC) and the logistics of moving more than 40,000 people between the South and North Islands in one weekend to attend both semi-finals games. Nobody is arguing the financial and logistical realities over that decison.

But just where the quarter-finals will be played will be revealed tomorrow, following approval by the Board of Rugby World Cup Limited earlier that morning. Proposals to host the quarter-finals have been lodged by Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, with Auckland and Hamilton also bidding to host the play-off for third and fourth.

Rugby New Zealand 2011, the company established in 2006 on behalf of the NZRU and the government charged with the responsibility for the planning and delivery of the 2011 RWC, has supposedly assessed the proposals on the following critieria which align to their four key strategic goals. These are:

1. Delivering an operationally excellent tournament
2. Achieving capacity crowds and achieving the budgeted financial result or better
3. Inspiring a nationwide Rugby World Cup festival
4. Creating enduring benefits

Martin Sneddon, CEO of Rugby New Zealand 2011, stated ‘There are tensions between those strategic goals and therefore a delicate balancing exercise to be undertaken when we assess the various proposals and venue allocation options’. The cynical amongst us – and let’s face it, our numbers swelled after the last RWC – would suggest that such a statement is a back-out clause to explain why the likes of Wellington and Christchurch will miss out on hosting quarter-finals.

Despite the fact that Christchurch is already in the midst of up-grading its stadium to be at a capacity of 45,000 for RWC 2011 making it the second biggest stadium in New Zealand (and without any of the $190 million the government has thrown in for the redevlopment of Eden Park) , many suspect that the travelling logistics card will be pulled on the country’s most successful professional province. Likewise Wellington with the third biggest stadium, who have hosted the incredibly successful New Zealand leg of the World Sevens tournament for several years now, are also threatened with the same travel logistics smoke screen.

According to NZRU Chairman Jock Hobbs, our bid to host the tournament ‘emphasised the rich heritage and history of New Zealand rugby’ in a country where ‘rugby is the pre-eminent sport’. If we spread the quarter-finals around the country, then yes we will be inspiring a nationwide festival and will certainly create enduring benefits. The fact of the matter is that hosting quarter finals in Wellington and Christchurch would not be setting a new precendent. Afteall, Cardiff hosted a infamous quarter final last year despite the fact the tournament was hosted by France and if fans didn’t have many problems getting from Cardiff to Paris in the space of seven days then they shouldn’t be too hard pressed to make their way to Auckland from Wellington or Christchurch.

Then there’s the ‘pre-eminent sport’ comment. If there is a one city in this country that doesn’t generate excitment before a big rugby game, it’s Auckland. The fact they get more people turning out to watch Americas Cup yatching kind of sums it up for the rest of New Zealand. It would be a slap in the face to the real rugby fans and the pro-active local councils in our other main centres if the quarter-final matches were all played in the Auckland region.

Given the vast amount of central government money being spent on upgrading Eden Park for RWC 2011 versus the local council and rate-payer funding of stadium up-grades outside of Auckland, there are compelling grounds for awarding quarter-final matches to Wellington and Christchurch. If the NZRU choose to argue they need to generate as much revenue as possible from ticket sales to the quarter-finals, it makes sense to base two games in Christchurch given their greater capacity. Indeed, concerns for the tournament to be a New Zealand-wide occasion led four government MPs to recently write to Rugby New Zealand 2011 to call for two quarter-finals to be held in the South Island. Christchurh MPs Lianne Dalziel, Tim Barnett, Ruth Dyson and Jim Anderton all noted that it was important to recognise the rest of the country outside of Auckland.

So all is set to be revealed at 3.15pm tomorrow in Wellington, headquarters of Rugby New Zealand 2011 and the NZRU. One can only hope that thecampaign theme of a stadium of four million has not lost in the the myriad of key strategic goals, budget sheets and the headache that has been the up-grade of Eden Park. This is New Zealand’s chance to show-case rugby to the world, and as such the quarter-finals need to be shared around. Closet all the tournament play-offs in the Auckland region and there will be a backlash from the rest of the country that willmake the fall-out from the 2007 RWC quarter-final loss look like a handbag fight in a rest home.

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