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New Zealand PM hopes Christchurch can host Rugby World Cup

The premier of the country hopes for Christchurch, which was shaken by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, to still stage World Cup matches in September, while some sport events in the country are cancelled.

WELLINGTON // John Key, the New Zealand prime minister, hopes Christchurch can still host Rugby World Cup matches as planned later this year despite the deadly earthquake that hit the city on yesterday.

New Zealand's second largest city is one of the venues for the September 9 to October 23 tournament and scheduled to host seven matches including England and Australia's openers and two of the quarter-finals at Christchurch Stadium.

The earthquake, the second major tremor to hit Christchurch in five months, killed at least 75 people and left roads buckled and buildings toppled across the city of 400,000.

"If we can host the Rugby World Cup as we intend in Christchurch I would like to do that," Mr Key told a news conference in Wellington today.

"It's some way into the future [but] it's a very important city to New Zealand. It would be a demonstration Christchurch is back up on its feet.

"One of the issues might be accommodation; there has been substantial damage to hotels."

Rugby World Cup organisers earlier said it was too early and would be inappropriate to speculate whether the quake would have an impact on the showpiece event.

"At this time RWC 2011 must take a back seat while Christchurch deals with the aftermath of this tragedy," Mike Jaspers, the tournament communications manager, said by e-mail.

"Our thoughts are very much with the people of the region. It is too early to talk about any implications for the tournament and any assessment must wait while the rescue and recovery efforts take priority."

Given the provision of hotels and other accommodation for the tournament was already tight before the destruction caused by the earthquake, it is likely that there will be implications.

The governing International Rugby Board issued a similar statement calling for the focus to remain on the emergency response in the city where the search for survivors in the rubble continued on Wednesday.

An international athletics meeting due to take place in Christchurch on Saturday has been postponed "for an undetermined period" because of the quake.

"QEII stadium along with many of Christchurch's hotels and infrastructure have suffered substantial damage," promoters said. "The International track meet ... has been called off."

The Australian women's cricket team, who were training just outside the city when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck, will be evacuated and their one-day international series against New Zealand cancelled, Cricket Australia said.

"The squad is in good spirits ... and plans are now being finalised to get the team home," read a statement released today.

New Zealand's cricket team were in India at the World Cup when the quake struck and looked set to play on with a match against Australia coming up on Friday in Nagpur.

"The greatest thing we can do for a lot of people is win the game against Australia," the skipper, Daniel Vettori, said in a video posted on the New Zealand Cricket website. "That would bring a little bit of relief to some people going through a tough time."

The Canterbury Crusaders have yet to decide whether to fulfil their Super 15 rugby fixture against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday after the death of one of the board members of the organisation in the disaster.

Hamish Riach, the Canterbury Rugby Union chief executive, said a board member, who was not named, had been killed and that he would be consulting with coaches, management and senior players today to decide whether they should travel north.

Asked later about the implications for Christchurch hosting the World Cup matches, Riach said: "Right now it doesn't feel like we could host very much at all.

"We've been looking forward to it [the World Cup] for five years and it's an event that promised so much for the city and the wider region and you'd certainly hope so.

"It's too early to say. Everyone is in the immediacy of this traumatic event and we're not quite getting our heads around that space just yet, but gosh I hope so but who knows?"

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