Arms Park's £100m plan

RUGBY UNION
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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION

BY STEVE BALE

Though it supposedly has nothing whatever to do with the 1999 World Cup, the Welsh Rugby Union yesterday unveiled grandiose plans to turn Cardiff Arms Park into a 70,000-seater super-stadium with a retractable roof by the time of that tournament, which it will host.

"We won the bid for the World Cup on our current facilities," Glanmor Griffiths, the WRU treasurer, claimed yesterday - at the Arms Park - when the union and South Glamorgan County Council, long-term antagonists over the rates the union has to pay, joined forces to launch an application for a grant from the Millennium Fund.

The project would create a new national stadium for football and athletics as well as rugby and would cost around £100m. Of this the applicants hope to receive half in Millennium money, though the fund already has before it an application to aid a new Welsh opera house at Cardiff Bay, as well as one from developers who want to build a brand-new Welsh rugby stadium at Bridgend, to the west of Cardiff.

Yesterday's announcement reflects not only the WRU's desire to stay at the Arms Park but also the council's panic, after the Bridgend option had been made public, that the city would lose the estimated £6m boost its economy receives every time an international is played in Cardiff.

If the scheme proceeds, work would begin before the end of this year and would involve turning the pitch through 90 degrees and the retention of only about 10,000 of the present seats in the South Stand from the half-way line to behind the posts. The WRU secretary, Edward Jones, had no answer yesterday to the problem of where Wales would play during this time beyond saying: "It is not an insurmountable obstacle."

There is another local difficulty: the need to move Cardiff Rugby Club from its facility adjacent to the National Ground to a 25,000-seater stadium proposed for Cardiff Bay. The executive committee of Cardiff Athletic Club, in which the rugby club is overwhelmingly dominant, supports the move but the approval of members is another matter.

They meet in three weeks to decide, by a neat irony, whether to abandon their own hallowed tradition so that Welsh rugby can maintain its hallowed tradition. If altruism cannot sway them, the WRU will then have to face reality again and decide between the Bridgend option and, much more likely, extending the Arms Park's North and South Stands upwards to expand its capacity by 70,000-plus for the '99 World Cup.

nThe Gloucester full-back, Mark Mapletoft, has signed registration forms for Bath for next season.

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