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World watching with stadium vote imminent
Thursday, 23 November 2006

THE eyes of the International Rugby Board (IRB) and Rugby World Cup Ltd are watching.

Many in this country know. Few are talking about it publicly.

Many are thinking, let’s not draw the attention of rugby’s international administration, as the last time it looked closely at how New Zealand prepares for a world cup, it took the competition away and gave sole hosting rights to Australia for 2003.

Remember David Rutherford, Murray McCaw and John O’Neill?

National Party MP Murray McCully is talking about it, in relation to tonight and tomorrow’s respective decisions of the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City Council on the national stadium matter.

“The nation is consumed by the debate about where, how and to what cost we’ll provide a stadium venue suitable to host the 2011 final,” says Mr McCully.

“And appalled that we could find ourselves in such a position at this late stage.”

Mr McCully says questions will be directed to the government about how the country got to the point – a year after being awarded the 2011 tournament’s hosting rights – that it still doesn’t know what the main Auckland stadium will be.

“The time for finger-pointing is later. Right now, the priority must be the imposition of an orderly decision-making process in place of the chaos.

“The rugby chieftains at Dublin’s IRB headquarters are not, from all accounts, spooked yet,” says Mr McCully. “But their patience will not be endless.”

Lobbying of the city and regional councillors has been intense this week, as the respective votes loom. The public relations war has also been heated.

Heart of the City, the city-based group in support of a Stadium New Zealand on public Ports of Auckland property, continues to call for its placement on Bledisloe Wharf.

Spokesman Greg McKeown says there are three main reasons for its preference for an east end site.

“The first is the urban design benefits, the second is the reduction in piling and platform costs and stadium project risks.

“The third is establishing the feasibility of port operations,” says Mr McKeown.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney says: “We’re encouraged by the comment from Ports of Auckland that the overriding concern is to maintain the efficient operation of the port.

“Hopefully the matter of compensation, which is a difficult issue, can be agreed by central government, the ARC, Auckland Regional Holdings and Ports, so that we can get on with building the stadium in a better location.”

Eden Park chief executive John Alexander remains optimistic that the weight of public support will lead to its selection as the leading 2011 venue.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us and made their views known,” says Mr Alexander.

“Our design is well-advanced, has been put together by world-leading stadium designers and has been extensively refined following community consultation.

“It has also been signed-off by the NZ Rugby Union and NZ Cricket Council, making it fully compliant with rugby and cricket world cups,” says Mr Alexander.