Roll up, roll up, for the greatest show on earth: the rugby stadium that has become a political football.
Auckland City Council does not want to pay for improvements to Eden Park for the Rugby World Cup. No doubt they are a little piqued that they voted for the waterfront option, only to be trounced by the mysterious, enigmatic Auckland Regional Council, the body which really holds power round here. ARC wanted Eden Park; ARC also owns the waterfront so Stadium New Zealand could have been a contender but wasn't. Cabinet booted the idea into touch; Stadium New Zealand's coach Trev Mallard came out and told the waiting crowds that the game was over.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Auckland, the choice offered by the Government to our Council was one of which Hobson (not that Hobson, the other one) would have been proud: we will pay for a nice shiny new stadium or you can pay for tarting up the old one. More unfortunately still, although ARC wanted Eden Park, it won't help pay for it.
In the circumstances, it seems appropriate that Auckland City Council shares an acronym with the Accident Compensation Corporation. When all the carnage is over, ACC is expected to pay for clearing up the mess. Although, this time they are more than a little reluctant. It is no wonder; not only does Auckland have far more pressing problems than a football stadium (such as drainage and public transport) but Aucklanders are facing massive rates increases over the next few years to pay for these needs. Besides (and it is a very big Besides) Auckland City Council does not own Eden Park. The Council is expected to hand over its citizens' money to a private trust.
So, what to do? The Government was talking of financing Stadium New Zealand with a bed tax levied on hoteliers (although not, I suppose, on those other providers of beds to sports fans, to whom I referred in my earlier post about stadium politics). The hoteliers were more than a little miffed about this suggestion; they pay their taxes, etc, etc.
Hotel, motel, holiday inn, I have a better idea.
How about a rugby tax? It would work like this: the Eden Park improvements would be financed by the people who are making money out of rugby in New Zealand. The Union can pay; Adidas can pay; so can Ford and Sanitarium and all the other feeders at the trough of our national game. For that matter, the players can pay: after all, whether the haka is performed in the changing room or out on the field, it is being performed by fifteen very profitable businesses.
I am sure all the men in blazers will protest vehemently. They will talk about how rugby benefits the nation, how it is such a good brand for New Zealand; they will talk about how we all win on the day if we give them lots of cash. But let us not kid ourselves. Rugby is a business and a small number of people are making a lot of money from it. Now its time for them to pay. We, the people of Auckland and New Zealand, have more important things on which to spend our money.