Christchurch loses all its Rugby World Cup games

8:30 pm on 16 March 2011

Christchurch has been stripped of all its Rugby World Cup games. Mayor Bob Parker says he's gutted, and Prime Minister John Key admit it's another blow for the quake-torn city.

Since the 22 February earthquake, growing doubts have been voiced about Christchurch's ability to host its seven scheduled Rugby World Cup (RWC) matches, which include two quarter-finals.

Now a meeting involving Government ministers and International Rugby Board officials has decided that the risk of keeping them there is too great.

There's extensive damage to the city's RWC venue, AMI Stadium, and parts of the city are untenable for residents and businesses, let alone thousands of visitors.

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully emerged from a meeting with International Rugby Board chief executive Mike Miller and chair Bernard Lapasset on Wednesday to make the widely expected announcement.

The decision had been made with regret, he said, but the collective uncertainties associated with hosting games in Christchurch are overwhelming.

Mr McCully says rushing the structural repairs is inappropriate, and the city does not have enough accommodation available anyway.

He says the decision of the meeting - also attended by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and AMI Stadium representatives - was unanimous.

Parker 'gutted' by decision

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says he is gutted by the decision. He says he understands it was not made lightly but is worried about struggling local businesses that were relying on the event.

Mr Parker says, however, that he will continue to support the event, which is bigger than Christchurch and about promoting New Zealand as a whole.

He says the city council will push ahead with plans to hold a Rugby World Cup 2011 festival featuring a fanzone with large screens.

Prime Minister John Key says it's a psychological blow for Christchurch and a financial blow, because the city will miss out on 35,000 expected rugby fans.

Mr Lapasset says the International Rugby Board took advice from experts and the New Zealand Government in making what he calls a painful decision.

Quarter-finals move to Auckland

Mr McCully says the quarter-finals will be played in Auckland, while efforts will be made to keep some games in the South Island.

Rugby World Cup 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden says that may not be practical but he will do everything he can to make it happen.

Mr Snedden says he expects three of the five pool games will go to the other South Island host cities, Dunedin, Invercargill and Nelson, while the other two will go to the North Island.

Mr Parker says all the pool games should stay in the South Island because many Cantabrians are struggling with the effects of the recent earthquakes and will find it hard to travel north.

Concessionary travel package planned

Mr McCully says work has begun on developing a special travel package that will allow those who have already bought tickets to the Christchurch quarter-finals to travel to Auckland on a concessionary basis. Refunds will also be available.

The minister also says the Government will make a $4.1 million grant to the stadium to allow turf repair work to start immediately and get the venue ready for the full 2012 season.

Dunedin had put its hand up to host the quarter-finals but Mr Snedden says neither Dunedin nor Hamilton has a big enough ground.

Both have stadiums that hold about 28,000 or 29,000 people, he says, but 36,000 tickets have already been sold for each of the quarter-finals that were to have been played in Christchurch.