“And the idea that our Government is willing to spend up to a billion dollars on a game, on the multimillion-dollar private enterprise that is professional rugby, when one in four Kiwi kids lives in poverty, when women with breast cancer are denied Herceptin, when the twin threats of peak oil and climate change cry out for every available research dollar, is, quite frankly, obscene.”
Stadium just Labour’s quick fix
17 November 2006
FROM THE LEFT – CHRIS TROTTER
Believe me, if you think the Rugby World Cup stadium debacle looks bad from the perspective of Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin, you should see it up close.
Aucklanders have become the flabbergasted witnesses to one of the most comprehensive failures of central and local government imagination in this country’s history.
The Rugby Union, backed by Helen Clark and her enthusiastic Sports Minister, Trevor Mallard, somehow managed to sell the International Rugby Board the sizzle of a New Zealand-hosted World Cup in 2011 without bothering to tell them we didn’t actually have the sausages.
Our country no longer possesses either the physical capacity, or the political will, to carry off a project of this magnitude. We Kiwis may be famous for punching above our weight; but this fight is, sadly, quite beyond us.
Wherever the stadium ends up being sited – Auckland’s waterfront, Eden Park, Christchurch or Eketahuna – we are going to end up running out of time, money and luck. Which leads me, very reluctantly, to the conclusion that the 2011 World Cup will not be played in New Zealand but somewhere in Australia.
To come up with the sort of facilities stipulated by the IRB, in the very short time frame of five years, the Government needed to put the country on something approaching a war footing.
Nothing less than a full-scale mobilisation of New Zealand’s financial, physical and human resources will get the job done on time. Because the job is a killer.
The upgrading of Eden Park, alone, raises all kinds of logistical difficulties. Where, for example, are the contractors going to find the skilled and unskilled labour required to complete such a large project on time and on budget?
How do they propose to outbid the Chinese for the necessary steel and cement? What plans are in place to deal with the potentially devastating impact of noise and light pollution in the densely populated suburb of Mt Eden?
These kinds of questions apply with even greater force to the proposed waterfront stadium. The design and engineering difficulties, by themselves, almost certainly rule out a completion date of 2010. The manpower, raw materials and environmental challenges involved far exceed those of Eden Park.
It is just possible all these difficulties could have been overcome if the New Zealand population really had been as determined to stage the World Cup as the Rugby Union believed: if there really was ”a support team of four million”. But there isn’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Kiwis remain immensely proud of the All Blacks. We love it when they beat the Aussies, and the Poms, and the French. But, the advent of the professional game, its extraordinary commercialisation, has robbed rugby of its former, almost mystical, ability to embody the nation’s values and aspirations.
Rugby is no longer our national religion, as it was in the 1950s and 60s. It’s gone back to being a game. An immensely popular game, to be sure, but a game nonetheless.
And the idea that our Government is willing to spend up to a billion dollars on a game, on the multimillion-dollar private enterprise that is professional rugby, when one in four Kiwi kids lives in poverty, when women with breast cancer are denied Herceptin, when the twin threats of peak oil and climate change cry out for every available research dollar, is, quite frankly, obscene.
Maybe, if our Government had led the way on these issues. Maybe, if we had already mobilised against poverty, and cancer, and the convenient lie that New Zealand is ”One Hundred Percent Pure”. Maybe, if the experience of collective selfimprovement had equipped us with the tools to make ”economic transformation” a reality. Then, maybe, we would have been ready to seize the promotional opportunities that a global event like the Rugby World Cup undoubtedly offers.
But our Government did none of these things. It simply reached out for the quick and easy public relations fix that anything associated with rugby provides. The 2011 World Cup looked like a fantastic photo opportunity – the ideal backdrop for a government seeking its fifth term. Now it has to make it happen in just four years. It reminds me of the story of the English tourist lost in the Irish countryside. ”Could you tell me how I might get to Dublin?” he asks a passing farmer.
”Ah, well, sir,” says the farmer, scratching his chin, ”if I wanted to be getting there, I’d never be starting from here.”