Paul Morgan: My enthusiasm for RWC in NZ
By Paul Morgan
There is only one country in the world where the live televising of the Rugby World Cup final would appear simultaneously on five channels! That's right, five different TV channels, not one or two but five and that country is, of course, New Zealand.
So considering this level of obsession with the great sport of rugby union, it is in many ways apt that the seventh staging of the Rugby World Cup should appear in the land of the long white cloud, and that they become the first nation to host it twice.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit New Zealand on rugby tours will testify to this obsession and it is true that when you meet someone in the street - any street - they can dissect the Wallaby lineout as well as Graham Henry.
We've heard all the doom-mongers talk about the lack of beds and infrastructure but one thing I can guarantee anyone lucky enough to go to New Zealand in September or October 2011 is a party they'll never forget.
Touring in many ‘rugby’ countries can be beset by indifference. I have turned up in many towns on Lions tours to be greeted by a population that barely knows what rugby is. That will definitely not be the case in New Zealand. The matches in all 12 venues will be welcomed with a frenzy and will be the biggest show in town by a long way.
My enthusiasm for a New Zealand World Cup can be explained by those many and enjoyable trips to the country. For a rugby fan there is no better place to watch the game, because the sport is knitted into the fabric of every part of life in New Zealand.
They have a Rugby Channel for goodness sake. Not a sports channel that shows lots of rugby as many countries have. They have a Rugby Channel that shows nothing but rugby - that alone should make you appreciate how enthusiastic the Kiwis will be to put on a great show. It guarantees that every restaurant, hotel, pub and fan zone will go rugby crazy in those two months.
As a journalist I want to be at the centre of the action, following the event that the country is talking about. That is guaranteed in New Zealand. What other country would move their school terms to accommodate a Rugby World Cup? Only, New Zealand.
Incredibly proud moment
Their commitment was probably reflected best at the announcement of New Zealand's successful bid, by the IRB, in 2005. Every country's delegation contained government dignitaries but New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark had taken the trouble to break from her busy schedule to make the trip to Ireland. In that gesture you will appreciate what rugby, and holding the Rugby World Cup in 2011 means to New Zealand.
As part of now former Prime Minister Clark's commitment in a country where the confirmation of a new All Blacks captain would lead the evening news, the guarantee given to the IRB is underpinned by a partnership with the New Zealand Government and a joint funding commitment from both partners, not something that most countries could guarantee.
This is an incredibly proud moment for New Zealand, thanks to the successful government-rugby union partnership that underlined the New Zealand Rugby Union's bid for the hosting rights.
“The contest to host the competition was particularly competitive, and we are honoured that the International Rugby Board chose New Zealand to showcase this tournament,” Prime Minister Clark said.
“It is an enormous vote of confidence in our country's ability to host major events, and also shows the important role that small countries like New Zealand can play in international sporting events.
“We believe this event will be a spectacle to remember - for everyone who loves rugby - the players, and fans and spectators from around the world.”
The New Zealand government have even appointed a Rugby World Cup minister. Think the Olympics for Great Britain and you get the idea. Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully can't wait for September 2011 to come around.
“RWC 2011 is an unprecedented opportunity for New Zealand. It will be the biggest event ever held in this country, and we plan to make the most of it,” Mr McCully said. “The Cup will inject over $500 million (£250 million) into the economy, with around half of that going into Auckland.
“It will also attract over 60,000 international visitors and a global television audience of over four billion. New Zealand will be in the international spotlight like never before, and we will be ready.
“I think 2011 will be a golden year for us in New Zealand. Rugby World Cup is not just an opportunity to invite people down to a place with a rich rugby heritage but also an opportunity to meet our business people - particularly in the food and beverage area but in other sectors as well.
“Whilst we cannot offer the glitz and glamour of bigger venues, we can offer a rugby heritage that is different and which will be appreciated by real rugby followers, as well as all of the opportunities to see some of the economic activities that we are involved in and meet our business people.”
And if you are lucky enough to make the trip to New Zealand it won't be just about the rugby as McCully explains. “We are encouraging New Zealanders to be a ‘nation of four million hosts’ to make the tournament an unforgettable experience for players and supporters.
“We'll also have a festival programme - offering a calendar of events that will allow visitors and New Zealanders to experience the best of our sporting and cultural life, and a showcase programme - to show the world the very best of everything that New Zealand, as a small trading nation, has to offer.
“RWC 2011 is an unprecedented opportunity to raise our international profile, boost our economy and make lasting gains in trade and tourism."
In terms of stadiums no one should worry about New Zealand's ability to get the tournament staged. The new 60,000-seater Eden Park that will host both semis and the final opened ahead of schedule, in October 2009. In 2011, the ground will become the first stadium in the world to host two Rugby World Cup finals.
Two new stands - the South and East - are forefront of a quarter of a billion New Zealand dollar redevelopment, and the new ground will continue to host Auckland during the ITM Cup, ahead of its first international contest with the Rugby League Four Nations playing a double-header there. The South stand is a six level structure that alone holds 21,500, and features retractable seating in front of it.
Radio New Zealand reported that the opening would begin with a dawn blessing of four tekoteko (carved poles) which will be blessed by Ngati Whatua o Orakei. Representing Tanemahuta, Rongo, Tumatauenga and Tawhirimatea, they stand guard at the four corners of the park.
The ground will host the 2011 tournament opener between the All Blacks and Tonga, as well as other pool matches, the semi finals, bronze final and the final itself.
Also featured will be a new internal concourse connecting the stands from within, access for vehicles into the ground has been improved; while new changing rooms, big enough to hold lineout drills, will be connected directly to the coaches box.
And it isn't all talk from the Government in New Zealand as they went further, confirming that any profits from the tournament will be shared on a 50/50 basis between the NZRU and the New Zealand Government. While any shortfall/losses on the Tournament will be met by a one-third/two-thirds split between the NZRU and the New Zealand Government respectively.
This will truly be a country-backed World Cup, rather than one just supported by a rugby union.
Stadium of four million
Back in 2005 New Zealand's bid was built around the theme that the tournament would be hosted in New Zealand's ‘Stadium of Four Million’ and that it would be an ‘All Black’ experience for all involved.
It is worth looking back and considering what New Zealand's bid promised to deliver:
1. A tournament for players
2. An environment where players can perform at their very best
3. Rugby facilities that are excellent and close at hand
4. A tournament based on traditional rugby values
When you talk to New Zealanders about the event there is measurable excitement in their voices, and none are more excited than Rugby New Zealand 2011 Chief Executive Martin Snedden.
The former Kiwi Test cricketer is heading up the countdown to September 2011 with the gusto of a salesman that believes 100% in the product he is selling.
"Every time I get the opportunity to watch live sport, it reminds me there is really nothing quite like being a part of the crowd,” he says. “When the promise that the New Zealand Rugby Union made in its 2005 bid, that RWC 2011 would be staged within our ‘Stadium of Four Million’, it was a great bid concept and our ‘stadium’ is truly coming to life.
“I'm not a big football fan, although I'll admit that I am sometimes fascinated by how the powerhouse clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea have turned a game of sport, for better or worse, into a huge commercial enterprise.
“And yet, despite feeling fairly ambivalent about the game, I can unequivocally state that the best spectator experience of my life (and I've been lucky enough to have been to a lot of great events over the last 30 or so years) was being part of the crowd at Wellington Regional Stadium in November 2008 when the New Zealand ‘All Whites’ beat Bahrain to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2010 finals in South Africa.
“New Zealand is a rugby-mad country and has been like this for more than a century, but if an alien from outer space had happened to drop into the stadium that night it would have thought that Wellington was the centre of the football, and not the rugby, universe.
Buzz of excitement
“The whole day was perfect. In the hours before the match the city centre was full of fans, many of them out-of-towners, enjoying the restaurants, the bars, the beautiful harbour and each other's company. There was a tangible air of excitement, a real buzz. As football is still a growing sport in this country there was no sign of any obsessive ‘win at all costs’ fan mentality. It seemed to me that the vast majority just wanted to be part of the fun and to be there in case history was made.
“I've talked to lots of people since about the experience that night. Everyone loved it, including those around New Zealand watching on TV. But I've noticed that the smile and the glean in the eye is invariably strongest on the faces of those who were actually there that night, inside the stadium.
“Our Rugby World Cup will capture New Zealand. It's already well on the way to doing so. For us, this is a genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, something really unique.
“Yes, as Kiwis we will back the All Blacks to the hilt, but right across the nation, our people will warmly embrace and care for all the participating teams and their supporters.
“Just as happened in Wellington for the All Whites, together with our thousands of international visitors we will fill the stadia for all the 48 RWC 2011 matches and, with the players, will create an incredibly special in-stadia experience.
“We will be there for the action, there for the fun but we will also be there just to make sure that, in case history is made, we can say we were part of it. I can't wait!”
Impressed by progress
The Kiwi enthusiasm isn't in question, but never doubt that the IRB have been closely monitoring the progress made Down Under. Senior International Rugby Board and Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) officials visited New Zealand to celebrate the 365-day countdown to RWC 2011 and expressed their confidence in New Zealand's preparations for the Tournament.
The delegation, which included IRB and RWCL Chairman Bernard Lapasset, IRB Vice Chairman and RWCL Director Bill Beaumont and IRB CEO and RWCL Managing Director Mike Miller, were impressed with the progress made since their last visit and enjoyed the positive feeling about the tournament as they travelled around the country.
Mr Lapasset stressed the confidence and excitement that supporters around the world had conveyed to him. “Planning and preparations are at an advanced stage. As the countdown enters its final year, the global rugby community awaits a tournament that will provide the seventh chapter of the RWC story in a country that is totally immersed in rugby's tradition and culture,” he said.
RWCL and its commercial partners marked one year to go with a number of events in New Zealand. These included bringing the RWC commercial family together for a two-day RWC 2011 Sponsors Workshop, reviewing spectacular plans for the commercial hospitality pavilion at Eden Park and host broadcasters SKY NZ hosting those showcasing New Zealand to the world with a World Broadcasters Meeting.
Drawing on his experience as the Chairman of the RWC 2007 Organising Committee in France, Mr Lapasset highlighted the critical nature of the partnerships around the tournament. He praised the role of the Prime Minister John Key and the RWC Minister Murray McCully and the strong relationship that had been built with them.
RWCL has seen how this partnership is being reflected at all levels between tournament partners around the country to provide lasting legacies beyond next year's tournament.
World Cup pretty massive
Having driven Rugby World Cup's growth at recent tournaments beyond being just 48 matches of rugby, the RWCL Directors were also impressed with the launch of the REAL Festival. They left confident that the excitement that continues to build in supporters around the world will be matched by the ‘Stadium of Four Million’.
In terms of the players they clearly can't wait, with one of Australia's finest, Quade Cooper turning down a lucrative contract with rugby league to allow him to get a crack at lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
''It was obviously a big decision,'' said the 22-year-old, who turned down a three-year offer from the Parramatta Eels to stay in rugby union.
''I had huge things weighing on my mind. There was a World Cup to be won, some of my best mates were in the team, and there was something I felt we were building towards with the way we were improving.
''I feel I made the right decision. To go on this tour with these guys and prepare for a World Cup next year is pretty massive.''
Like Cooper I can’t wait for the World Cup to start. I’m sure it is the same for rugby fans all over the world.
Taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2011 - Click here to buy your copy >>
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