AMI Stadium 'field of dreams' gets Fifa nod

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2013

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Top international officials are convinced post-quake Christchurch will have visitor infrastructure to help host the world's second-biggest football tournament in 2015.

New Zealand will host the men's under-20 World Cup - provisionally set for June 19 to July 11 - and a delegation from world football's governing body, Fifa, is checking out nine potential host cities.

They kicked off their tour with a visit to Christchurch's AMI Stadium at Addington and Fifa's senior competitions manager Rhiannon Martin, the head of the seven-person delegation, liked what she saw.

"So far, so good," she said.

A decision on the host venues is expected in the next couple of months, although New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum said last year after New Zealand were awarded the tournament that six, or possibly eight, cities would host games.

Van Hattum said then that Christchurch "features in our plans" as a host city.

Christchurch successfully staged matches at both the 1999 Fifa under-17 boys and 2008 Fifa under-17 girls World Cup tournaments, both at QEII Stadium, which was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake.

Seven 2011 Rugby World Cup games slated for Christchurch were switched to other venues due to liquefaction and structural damage to AMI Stadium at Waltham and a shortage of hotels and visitor amenities in the quake-stricken city.

But Christchurch City Council officials were at pains to point out to the Fifa delegation yesterday that the city would have the facilities to stage the 2015 tournament - and Martin seemed satisfied.

"We've had some very good presentations [from the city council]," she said.

"The information they've given us gives us a lot of hope and ambition that everything will be ready in time for the Fifa under-20 [tournament] in 2015."

Christchurch City Council recreation and sport manager John Filsell said the city had "a few infrastructural challenges" but he was confident everything would be in place in two years.

"Yes, we've suffered some losses [but] Fifa are looking at what the city's going to be like in 2015, not early 2013," he said.

"The best thing we can get out of this visit is an absolute honest appreciation to give us something to work on, so we can either do it or we can't."

Filsell said the Fifa team had had an extensive tour of the stadium and had also been briefed on the availability of hotels, motels, training venues, gyms and swimming pools.

He felt Fifa would want to look at Christchurch's "track record".

"What we did in [1999] and 2008 really adds to that.

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"We think Christchurch City is the ideal fit for this event.

"The under-20 event is youth, it's new, it's innovation, it's lots of young guys wanting to get out and strut their stuff in the world; it's a lot like what Christchurch is trying to do over the next few years.

"Our aspirations and values align completely with those of the tournament . . . that's the sort of message I'm trying to get across to them."

The Fifa delegation visit Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium today and Nelson's Trafalgar Park tomorrow. The North Island inspection tour begins on Thursday in Wellington and moves on to Napier's McLean Park, North Harbour Stadium in Auckland, Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth and Waikato Stadium before ending at Toll Stadium in Whangarei on January 30.

New Zealand Football special projects manager Peter O'Hara said Dunedin's roofed stadium would still be inspected despite the Dunedin City Council advising it would "discontinue their bid in the current circumstances but would make the stadium available free as long as there was no cost, or minimal cost, to the city".

"We're still going there with Fifa. We think it's important they see the stadium and what's on offer, particularly in regard to a June tournament, a covered stadium is a fantastic prospect.

"But frankly, it's going to need community support to make it work."

O'Hara said the Hamilton City Council decided initially not to bid but the business community in Hamilton "lobbied the council and came up with $400,000" to support the council, which, "to its credit, changed its decision and bid and Hamilton is well in the running".

"We would hope Dunedin has as much opportunity as it can to get into the event and we're not ruling any options [out] at this stage until the decision's finally made by Fifa."

- The Press

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