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Rugby World Cup will be a NZ party: IRB

By Baptiste Pace 07/09/2010 10:28:29 AM Comments (0)

The choice of New Zealand as host of the 2011 World Cup, which kicks off in one year, is a strategic one based not on commercial interests but on highlighting the sport's core values, according to the IRB.

Bernard Lapasset, chairman of the International Rugby Board (IRB), rugby union's world governing body, said planning was going as expected and downplayed ramifications of the earthquake that hit Christchurch last week.

"As far as New Zealand goes, it's a World Cup that interests the whole of the country and the government is completely involved in its running," Lapasset told AFP.

"It's a national obsession. We have commitments on almost all issues, starting with stadium construction. We're today certain that all stadiums will be finished on time.

"There was a change in government between the moment New Zealand got the nod (to host the event in 2005) and today the new prime minister (John Key) has not only confirmed the choices of his predecessor but has also pushed certain proposals and taken some decisions that have boosted links with the organising committee and the entire country."

Lapasset said that the powerful tremor that devastated Christchurch last weekend has left the AMI Stadium, which will host five pool games and two quarter-finals, with no structural damage.

"What we know for sure is that there's no damage to the stadium, equipment, accommodation and airport," the Frenchman said.

"On the other hand, roads and railway tracks were badly hit.

"We're in the process of establishing a plan 'B', which we already had in mind for back-up reasons, but we're also drawing up details for a further plan should something disrupt the holding of the tournament.

"There's talk about moving matches within the region, or relocating them to the North Island. But all will depend on a more precise evaluation of the damage."

Lapasset predicted that ticket sales would come close to hitting maximum capacity, with single ticket sales launched on September 7.

"Maximum ticket capacity is 1.6 million and we're on schedule to come close to selling that many," he said, also warning that the economic downturn will mean that revenues will be nowhere near as high as in France in 2007.

"The only unknown is the uncertain economic climate, notably in Europe.

"Today, activity is picking up. Of course, it won't be on the same scale as in France, but we're on track with a country of 3.8 million inhabitants and its capability of receiving international visitors in big numbers.

"We're looking good to fill the stadiums at 90-95 percent."

Turning to accommodation, and doubters who say there will not be enough for the estimated 85,000 expected visitors, Lapasset acknowledged that they had to "remain careful".

"The government has put in place a system whereby public establishments can be used," he explained.

"The government has also pushed back the school year to free up establishments and allow accommodation in schools.

"We have also reserved two cruise ships from an international company, one of which will be based in Auckland and the other in Wellington.

"We're waiting to see the reservation rate to adapt the capacity of these boats."

The IRB chief downplayed fears that the World Cup would be a financial wash-out, saying that economic reasons were most definitely not behind the decision to name New Zealand as host country.

"The choice is to mix the World Cups to make secure partners over the long term. And to no longer focus solely on the size of the country and its organisational capability.

"That's the case with Japan (in 2019), for example. It's the economic environment which weighed on that decision more than a sporting one.

"New Zealand was a strategic choice that my predecessor backed. New Zealand has brought a huge amount to the World Cup. It has contributed massively to the image of the international rugby brand.

"We effectively wanted to organise a World Cup in this country to make a national party of it and also to make it something that really reflects the values of our game. We didn't do it based solely on commercial strategies."

He added: "It's a choice based on the putting rugby's core values to the fore in a country which has always helped boost the social link between peoples. We can see that very well with the make-up of the All Blacks team."

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