We reckon that this is another sad day for Christchurch, despite the increasing inevitability of today's decision. Rugby World Cup matches, had they been able to be played in Christchurch would have provided the city with an important economic fillip, and they would have been a boost to the morale of the good folk of Christchurch.
Rugby World Cup Minister, Murray McCully, says the government and other stakeholders have agreed the Christchurch Rugby World Cup matches will be moved out of the city due to unacceptable risks associated with maintaining the current programme.
“Today’s decision is made with regret and clearly is a blow to the people of Canterbury, who rightly pride themselves on being the home of New Zealand’s pre-eminent Super Rugby and NPC teams.”
“But we simply have to acknowledge that collective uncertainties associated with the planned hosting of games in Christchurch are overwhelming,” said Mr McCully.
But the reports about the condition of AMI Stadium and of hotels in the city have been increasingly gloomy over the last few days. The playing surface of AMI Stadium would have had to be ripped up and relaid, such is the level of the liquefaction damage. There has clearly been some structural damage to the Hadlee and Deans stands, and the streets around the stadium are an absolute mess.
It would have taken an intensive effort to fix all these things to enable RWC matches to be played. Even then, it may have been a bridge too far. And as we suggested last week, insurance issues have been a significant factor - read on:
The Minister says while the stadium structures can be fixed they can only be fixed in time if normal procurement processes are by-passed, placing insurance cover at risk. There is also a risk further testing will reveal other problems causing additional delays.
“Complete replacement of the turf at AMI Stadium is required. We have been advised that would be a tightly managed six month long project to replace it and that the turf was uninsured. The Rugby World Cup games commence in six months from last Wednesday. Any further damage to drainage under the turf places that timetable at risk,” said Mr McCully.
“Even if all of these difficulties were overcome, there is no guarantee that insurance arrangements, including public liability insurance, will be available on acceptable terms, especially if aftershocks continue,” he said.
The issue of public liability is an important one. Our business was involved in a trade display recently, and before our booking space could be confirmed, we had to show evidence of public liability insurance cover of $2m. Our display was low-risk; the worst that might happen would be someone getting a paper cut from a brochure; however the organisation running the event was taking a very conservative stance.
AMI Stadium is only a few kilometers from the epicentre of the February 22nd earthquake. It is not hard to imagine that insurers would be very wary of extending cover, and that the cost of premiums would be stratospheric.
Against this background, the decision has been taken today to move the seven matches scheduled for Christchurch. This will be a blow, and already Bob Parker has talked of taking it hard. The Herald quotes him thus:
"We're facing a long hard winter here in this city of ours. We were looking forward to a spring that would be brightened by having the Rugby World Cup here in our city.
"From my heart I will probably always find this decision hard to accept... and hard to agree with at some level.
"But this is bigger than Christchurch. It is about our country."
We share Bob Parker's profound sense of disappointment at today's decision, but we also recognise that at a pragmatic level, it was the only decision which could be taken. All we can hope for now is that the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup, and parade it triumphantly threough Christchurch at some date after the final.