Cruise ship option for W.Cup quake city: PM
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — New Zealand was looking at using cruise ships to house World Cup fans in quake-hit Christchurch if it no longer had enough hotels for the event, Prime Minister John Key said Wednesday.
Key, who was raised in Christchurch, said he remained optimistic the devastated city could still host matches at the September-October tournament but warned a final decision was "months, not weeks" away.
Christchurch's AMI Stadium was damaged when last week's 6.3-magnitude quake reduced swathes of the city to rubble, killing hundreds of people, and is closed until March 15 as operators check if it will be ready for the World Cup.
Even if it is given the all clear, tournament organisers must consider other factors, such as whether the shattered city has enough hotel accommodation to host tens of thousands of rugby fans.
Key said the government wanted the city to participate in the largest event ever staged in the country and was willing to offset some of the cost of using cruise ships to house the fans, including England's "Barmy Army".
"We've already made inquiries about cruise ships and that's entirely possible, and that's not a bad place to stay if you're the Barmy Army," he told reporters.
"Even if it costs a bit more, we might be prepared to accommodate that cost if it means holding the cup in Christchurch."
Christchurch is one of the Cup's main venues, slated to host seven matches, including two quarter-finals.
The tournament's September 9 kick-off is in little more than six months but Key said a decision on whether the matches went ahead as planned would take time.
"There's a series of different boxes that will need to be ticked before we can say yes or no," he said.
"My strong preference is to hold the Cup in Christchurch if we can because I think it sends a very strong international message that Christchurch is going through a rebuilding phase," he said.
"Equally, if we don't, sadly the message is it's not."