Rugby World Cup call 'weeks away'

New Zealand prime minister says repairs to stadium must be assessed as Christchurch mourns dead from earthquake.

    Rugby players in New Zealand have been holding minute-silences to remember the victims of the quake [GALLO/GETTY]

    New Zealand's prime minister John Key said he should know "within a few weeks" whether Christchurch's earthquake-damaged rugby stadium can host World Cup matches later this year.

    The southern city was struck by a deadly magnitude 6.3 earthquake on February 22, with the death toll standing at 166 but likely to climb higher.

    A painstaking effort to recover bodies and identify the dead is still underway.

    But as it mourns its losses, the city is also having to pay attention to whether Christchurch can host matches at the biggest tournament in Rugby Union – which has a passionate following in the city and New Zealand as a whole.

    "The biggest issue is ultimately the stadium," Key said.

    "There's some damage to the Deans Stand, some damage to the Hadlee Stand, there's some liquefaction outside and the turf has liquefaction damage which means it needs to be rebuilt – and that takes quite a number of months."

    Definite answer

    He said Christchurch's chance of hosting five group matches and two quarter-finals at the September 9 to October 23 World Cup was not "looking bleaker" but there were several issues to be addressed before a definite answer could be given.

    Keys said if the problems with the stadium could be fixed, then other logistical problems could be addressed.

    He had also announced at Monday's conference that the damage to the city was so severe that 10,000 homes could not be rebuilt.

    New Zealand's treasury department said that quake recovery would cost the country NZ$15billion ($11billion).

    "In the end, if we can get a stadium that operates and everyone is comfortable with then...we need to deal with accommodation issues and with bars, restaurants and the like," Key said.

    "I think we can address those issues, but we can't do that unless we have a stadium that gets a tick-off."

    Key said his cabinet "understands the significance, if possible, of wanting to have Rugby World Cup games hosted in Christchurch.

    "The final decision...is made by the IRB (International Rugby Board), we are working very closely with them on all of those issues," he said.

    "We will have...a clearer picture from an engineering perspective on whether AMI Stadium can (have) any structural issues remediated and be in a better position on whether we can get public liability insurance and the likes within a few weeks."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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