Earthquake-devastated Christchurch will not host any matches at this year’s rugby World Cup after organizers decided the city would not be ready, the New Zealand government said yesterday.
The city’s ability to host five pool matches and two quarter-finals was thrown into doubt when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck on Feb. 22, killing at least 166 people, leveling parts of the city and badly damaging Lancaster Park.
The quarter-finals will be moved to Eden Park in Auckland, while the five other matches New Zealand’s second city was scheduled to host in the Sept. 9-Oct. 23 tournament will be reallocated to other venues around the country.
“It is with sincere regret that the stakeholders have agreed today that all of the 2011 rugby World Cup games scheduled to be held in Christchurch will be moved,” New Zealand Minister for the Rugby World Cup Murray McCully told a televised news conference.
“The government had a very strong wish for all of the scheduled matches, or failing that, most of the scheduled games to be held here in Christchurch,” he added.
“At the end of the day we were faced with the reality that the risks were unacceptable in relation to the largest sporting event ever hosted in this country, one that calls for certainty and for the elimination of risk,” he added.
International Rugby Board (IRB) officials met with government ministers yesterday after receiving reports on the venue’s suitability to host matches and the city’s ability to provide accommodation and fix infrastructure.
Stadium managers VBase said they may have had enough time to fix Lancaster Park in time for the first match on Sept. 10, but that would not have allowed for unforeseen delays, while resources would be tight as the city rebuilt its infrastructure.
McCully said that the city would not have been able to offer enough accommodation for visitors.
“The advice of experts and the stadium operators had been sought and every option explored, but in the end there had been no other option,” IRB chairman Bernard -Lapasset said. “It has been a hard decision, but it is a decision that all parties agree is in the best interests of the tournament and of New Zealand.”
Tournament chief Martin Snedden said a decision on where the pool matches would be reallocated would be made by the end of this month.
“We haven’t yet engaged the individual regions where these games should go, but I think we will be able to move that on quite quickly,” Snedden said.
“Our instinct today is that three of the pool matches will go to the South Island and that will probably result in the other existing venues [Nelson, Dunedin, Invercargill] around the South Island getting an extra match ... and I also think it’s probably likely a couple will go into the North Island,” he added.
Snedden said people holding tickets for the matches in Christchurch would be offered a refund or the ability to secure tickets at the new venues.