Christchurch set for World Cup blow
March 14, 2011
Water pours from a broken water main outside Christchurch's AMI Stadium that was also damaged in the recent earthquake © Getty Images
Christchurch's hopes of playing host to this year's Rugby World Cup are set to be dashed by the official assessment of the earthquake-damaged AMI Stadium.
The recently re-vamped ground suffered major structural damage in the 6.3 magnitude tremor that hit the city on February 22 but tournament organisers refused to rush a decision on whether it could still be used for the sport's showpiece event. However, further inspection of the stadium has reportedly confirmed the worst with an official decision expected within days.
A senior International Rugby Board source confirmed to Daily Telegraph last night that an engineers' structural report is expected to be "bleak" and as a result Christchurch is set to be stripped of the seven games it is due to stage that include two of the four quarter-finals and two of England's pool matches.
England's training base in Christchurch - the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium - has recently been declared unsafe while the team's intended hotel - the Crowne Plaza - was also amongst the many buildings damaged or destroyed in the centre of the city.
The final decision rests with the Rugby World Cup Limited, the company set up by the IRB to run the tournament, although the they are set to consult with the New Zealand government, the New Zealand Rugby Union and Rugby New Zealand 2011 - the event organisers.
Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully has received an initial engineering report and is in the process of gathering further information while Prime Minister John Key hopes to have a decision by Friday.
"I haven't seen all of the information... We all acknowledge it's challenging but that doesn't mean it's impossible," Key told reporters on Monday. "The IRB are very keen to work in conjunction with us, they are accepting that we have the best available advice, and we are going to be realistic about that advice. If we can hold the Cup there and do so in a professional way we will but if we can't then we will also give that honest up-front assessment."
Reports emerged over the weekend that the IRB was likely to move matches from Christchurch to Auckland, but Key refused to confirm those assumption. "Certainly, if we have to go to plan B there are alternatives in New Zealand," said Key. "I don't think there is any need for us to consider games outside New Zealand."
Auckland's Eden Park, that will play host to the opening game as well as both semi-finals and the final, is favourite to benefit from Christchurch's loss due to the size of the ground and the capital city's capacity to cope with substantial visitor numbers. However, Wellington's Westpac Stadium and the yet-to-be completed Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin may also be utilised.
The Rugby Football Union have also revealed that they expect to receive confirmation this week that their games will be moved away from Christchurch. Press Association Sport has been told it is "pretty unlikely" the city will be in a position to act as a host city. It is understood the RFU are also working on that basis.
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