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Legacy? Let’s not get too carried away

When New Zealand bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, we said we planned to expand Eden Park.  We’d expand its capacity to 60,000, we said; the cost of the Eden Park upgrade, as we understand now, is up to $385 million.

That was the promise then.  Now, the government, city councils and selected others seem intent on throwing about more exquisite, more expensive, and more extravagant venues that have ranged from a floating saucer to the most recent, government-backed waterfront stadium.  This, we gather, has estimates of $500 million (including $120 million for the piling and platform which, somehow, was overlooked in the initial estimate).

Why did we ever come so dissatisfied with Eden Park?  It has given us faithful, reliable service over some decades—are we really going to tell it now that, all of a sudden, it’s not good enough?  The question, Helen Clark says, is “what kind of legacy Auckland really wants from the Rugby World Cup”.  Do we want an upgrade on a stadium that carries a long, heartfelt pride with it?  Or do we want yet another stadium, just for this event, when we have another stadium that the IRB’s agreed is up to the task, just so that we have some brilliant “legacy” on our waterfront?

Let’s get real, people.  This isn’t the Olympics.  This isn’t the Football World Cup.  This is a sport which, let’s be fair, is still restricted to that unofficial elite group of countries.  Paraphrased, it lacks international popularity.  Put bluntly, few countries really care about it.  But we’re treating the stadium issue as if it’s the last thing New Zealand will ever do on a global scale.  As if this is our last chance.

This could very well be our last chance if we continue like this.  This indecisiveness is the exact sort of behaviour that will lead the IRB to believe, once again, that we are incapable of hosting this tournament.  We asked for a job, we were given it, and all we really need is a stadium that can live up to its purpose.

The prospect of a brand new stadium, when none was promised in our bid, carries all sorts of risks.  Initial estimates of legacy venues virtually always inflate; construction projects more often than not fall behind time, especially when they’re on a tight schedule; there are bound to be problems with a waterfront venue that we don’t expect.  In short, we risk failing to complete it, and we risk losing hosting rights once again.  All this for a legacy venue?  I doubt we would have won hosting rights if we had proposed such wishful thinking in our bid.

It doesn’t help that the minister at the helm of this is the same one that led NCEA to its demise.  He is exercising exactly the same political tactics as he did with the NCEA: say your thing, and when something doesn’t quite work out, attack.  Don’t listen, just attack—blame someone else—anyone else—blame the teachers for not implementing NCEA properly and never mind that they forewarned major problems with it.  We saw what happened then.  Not only did we see NCEA’s credibility plummet, we also saw Bill English have the time of his life in the shadow education portfolio.  Now, Trevor Mallard blames Auckland for not making up its mind, and threatens to move it to Christchurch if they don’t make a call.  Yeah, right.  As if Christchurch as the infrastructure or capacity to hold the final of an international tournament.  If he’d just leave Auckland alone, they’d probably make up their minds faster.

The bottom line is that a stadium must be finished by the time 2011 comes by.  We made a promise when we bid for the cup.  We proved beyond doubt that we could deliver on that promise.  All we have to do is fulfill the promise.  Why make extravagant, “legacy” plans when the plan we had before works fine?  If a waterfront stadium’s what we really want, we should have proposed it then.  But a specially built stadium invading our waterfront for a sport like rugby seems out of proportion to me.  The Eden Park upgrade will do.

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