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What the government wants, it should pay for
Sunday Star Times
Sunday, 25 February 2007

It seems like my column last week ruffled a few feathers. I wasn't intending to add to the comment on the Eden Park world cup 2011 redevelopment issue, but to cover the government's handling of the entire affair - and I got what I wanted to say off my chest.

I wasn't surprised that by the next day the government had confirmed its well-planned media leak of a few days before - namely that Eden Park would get a band-aid treatment for hosting of big Rugby World Cup matches instead of the "legacy" solution suggested by the Eden Park Trust Board.

Despite my personal disappointment, I was prepared to move on, support the referee's decision and get on with it. I think most Eden Park backers have that philosophy.

This week was going to be about my early impressions of the Super 14, but the manner in which the government has handled this whole debacle means I can't hold my tongue.

I don't mind a decision not going my way. It happens every day to most of us, but it's a lot easier to handle when you're given a decent explanation as to why.

Firstly, credit where it's due. Good on the government for supporting the NZRU's bid for the 2011 hosting rights all the way to Dublin. It sat on its hands during the 2003 sub-hosting dramas but its support was there this time.

And, yes, Trevor Mallard has a point when he says that Eden Park was the first to shift the goalposts by supposedly presenting a more expensive plan than originally in the bid.

Mallard was then entitled to look at other options, including the waterfront proposal he seized on with such zeal, but what he and his colleagues are not entitled to do is keep us in the dark about so much of the process and force its funding decisions upon us.

The facts are pretty basic. The government said it would support the world cup bid and was prepared to pay a significant amount of money to realise the waterfront dream.

When it didn't get what it wanted, the rules changed. Now it's going to put in diddly-squat compared with the would-be waterfront option and is leaning on everybody else for the cash.

Well, in the business world I work in, if somebody calls all the shots, they pay. If the government has decided what we're going to get, I say it should put its hand in its own pocket and pay for it.

I'm also tiring of the semantics being employed to defend the decision.

Apparently Eden Park is now a "regional stadium" while the waterfront option was a "national stadium", hence the refusal to spend the money to future-proof Eden Park beyond 2011.

I've heard some nonsense in my time but that one's right up there. Eden Park is an international stadium and has hosted rugby union and league world cup finals, soccer and hockey internationals, an Empire Games and even a royal visit. It is the best-known New Zealand sporting arena in the world.

Most fair-minded Kiwis would agree it has been our premier sports venue.

Can the government please explain what the difference is between a regional stadium and a national one because I don't understand? Nor do a lot of other people I've talked to.

We have a history in this country of not planning properly.

We build a harbour bridge in our biggest city, don't think about population growth and then have to add "clip-ons". Auckland drivers curse each day the lack of foresight from the city's planners.

We had a chance to plan properly for this and create the world class stadium our country deserves, instead we're again in danger of embarrassing ourselves on the world stage.

With the fourth round of Super 14 all but completed, Australian and South African media executives will be poring over early TV ratings and crowd numbers. I wonder if they might end up with egg on their faces.

I refer to the forthright comments from the likes of News Ltd and the pay-TV networks in Australia and Africa, Fox Sports and Super Sports, over the NZRU's decision to keep 22 All Blacks out of the first half of Super 14.

Super Sports said if the ratings fell even a single point they would demand compensation from the NZRU. I remember thinking: "What if they go up, are you going to pay more?"

Last weekend three South African teams beat three Kiwi franchises and interest there is extremely high, regardless of the absence of McCaw, Carter and co. I suspect that will be reflected in the ratings.

Nor would I be surprised if Australian ratings are up, particularly around the Force. Which will make future public comment from News, Fox and Super Sport very interesting indeed.