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Venue stalemate no surprise
Sunday November 26, 2006

No surprise then that there is no resolution about the national stadium for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

We left Auckland a month ago for the All Blacks four-test tour of Europe with all sorts of concepts, designs, theories and dialogue being delivered about the best site for the stadium.

Eventually the choices were narrowed down to two by the Government with Sports Minister Trevor Mallard favouring the waterfront ahead of a revamp of Eden Park.

The ensuing stalemate, after the Auckland City Council's preference for the waterfront was countered by the Auckland Regional Council's emphatic support of Eden Park, has sent the choice back to the Cabinet.

Without ARC and Ports of Auckland support, the Government will be forced to choose Eden Park. The perils in any waterfront scheme do not compare well with renovating the blue and white elephant.

What a shame. Eden Park is outdated as a modern international sporting venue. Situated in the suburbs, its use is governed by the neighbours, public transport is appalling and, archaically, the ground still tries to cater for rugby and cricket.

Jock Hobbs, chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union, confirmed after his telephone discussions with Mallard that no other stadium venues were in the final ballot.

Again, what a shame. If an Auckland waterfront stadium or a proposal to build at Carlaw Park did not stack up, the solution was still available across the Harbour Bridge.

Why not North Harbour Stadium? Is it because the Government does not consider that area part of Auckland or because those lobbyists who are well-connected to the NZRU also have strong links to Eden Park?

North Harbour is a purpose-built rugby arena and there is ample room to add grandstands to enclose the stadium and lift the capacity to 60,000. There are generous areas for parking and substantial commercial development nearby.

The motorway goes past the ground and fleets of buses could use the transit lanes or the Government could introduce a light rail service.

The enemy throughout the World Cup stadium deliberation has been time. Had the NZRU and Government been more inclusive 18 months ago when they considering tendering for the 2011 event, a variety of venue ideas could have been considered and evaluated.

It all seems to have been done with indecent haste and the urgent need for construction to start - by April at the waterfront or next September at Eden Park - will assist the cause of the Sandringham dinosaur.

Shame on you, Auckland. Anywhere but Eden Park had to be the catchcry for New Zealand's second time as host of the World Cup.

In being fortunate enough to attend most of the major global sporting arenas, I can attest that the major attractions of such stadiums are proximity to public transport and specialist use for rugby and complementary sports or events.

The Olympic Stadium in Sydney, or whatever it is called now, is out in the boondocks but the rail service is prompt and regular. Twickenham has a massive capacity but is a nightmare to reach and exit because it is plonked in the middle of suburbia. The Stade de France in Paris is a fine arena and fulfils the transport thing while the Millennium Stadium is the bosom of central Cardiff.

The MCG, the Bledisloe Cup venue next year, is close to town but a rugby game in the middle of an AFL ground is tough viewing. Telstra Dome in Melbourne has the same problem and even the CakeTin in Wellington, to some extent.

Waikato Stadium is the best ground for viewing rugby in New Zealand and is easily accessible. However Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane remains the prototype for rugby, similar events and Auckland. Revamping Eden Park will still leave it well short of Suncorp standards because authorities cannot divorce themselves from cricket.

If the Government were brave - and obviously they have reservations about Eden Park - they should stump up with all the loot and decide where they want the stadium in wider Auckland.