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Funding veto threatens Rugby World Cup
TRACY WATKINS
The Dominion Post
Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Fresh uncertainty clouds New Zealand's Rugby World Cup plans as the Government appears poised to veto Eden Park's so-called "Rolls-Royce" upgrade in favour of temporary seats.

The Government was running out of time to sort out the venue, the National Party said yesterday.

There are fears that continuing debate about the venue for the World Cup final will cause international rugby bosses to reconsider New Zealand's hosting rights.

"Our bottom line is we think that having already lost one Rugby World Cup we should be trying to get some certainty and stability around this thing as quickly as possible," National's World Cup spokesman Murray McCully said.

Rugby World Cup Minister Trevor Mallard dismissed as speculation a report that the Government had decided on a temporary seating plan for the World Cup final.

No decisions had been made and it was yet to be discussed by the Cabinet, he said yesterday.

But the Government is understood to favour the cheaper option of 13,000 temporary seats over Eden Park's more ambitious 60,000-seat stadium plan, which would require a $225 million government handout.

Concerns about the spiralling costs of the Eden Park upgrade were what forced the Government late last year to look at an alternative waterfront option which was ditched after Auckland failed to agree.

Mr Mallard said the government remained committed to having a stadium "of the quality required for a World Cup final and reflecting what was promised in the bid which won New Zealand the hosting rights".

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard told TV3 News last night he supported the cheaper upgrade.

"Very clearly there will be restrictions on Eden Park in the future as a result of sensitivity with the residential area that it is in."

He understood that talks with the International Rugby Board, which would have to approve plans, were underway.

Mr McCully said today there was a danger that a temporary stand could be viewed internationally as a cheap fix and could undermine New Zealand's reputation as a host of premiere sports events.

"The impression that's going to be out there is that it's going to be cheap and nasty," he said on Radio New Zealand.

Mr Mallard should end the speculation, "get the facts on the table and let the IRB see New Zealand is not about to put its hosting rights for this event at risk".

Under the reported new plan the South Stand for dignitaries and members would be upgraded, but there would be no full wrap around stadium.

The report said a British company with experience in cheap stadium conversions had sold the new plan to the Government.

Mr Mallard later told reporters Cabinet would consider the option of a partially temporary stadium over the next two weeks.

Any suggestion that temporary seats were shoddy needed to be looked at.

About 80 per cent of the seats for that event would be temporary, he said.

"We're not going to have planks and scaffolds and binoculars. You are going to have a high quality stadium."

Mr Mallard said whatever option was finally decided on would have to be acceptable to the IRB.

"Clearly we can't do something unless it is acceptable to the contractual arrangement."

He said the Eden Park Trust Board had been kept informed throughout the process.