Christchurch - Christchurch must accept the possibility that damage from this week's devastating earthquake could prevent it hosting Rugby World Cup matches, a senior government minister said on Saturday.
The only venue in Christchurch capable of hosting matches during the tournament, AMI Stadium, was damaged in last Tuesday's 6.3-magnitude tremor and much of the surrounding city was reduced to rubble.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, whose parliamentary constituency is in Christchurch, said he did not want his rugby-mad hometown to miss out on the World Cup but the prospect could not be avoided.
"To lose the Rugby World Cup from Christchurch would be a massive blow," he told TVNZ. "I don't want to see it happen but we've got to be realistic about the prospect."
Brownlee said it was too early to make a decision on Christchurch's participation in the tournament while the city was still dealing with a disaster that has killed least 123 people.
He pointed out the city had recovered well from another major earthquake last September which also caused extensive damage but amazingly resulted in no fatalities.
"Let's not rush too far ahead of things. This place recovered amazingly well after the September 4 earthquake," he said.
The tournament will be the largest event ever staged in New Zealand, and would face major logistical problems if the disaster meant no matches could be staged in the country's second biggest city.
AMI Stadium's operators expect to know by mid-March whether the venue, which is only two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the badly hit downtown area, can be repaired in time for the September-October rugby showcase.
They say it suffered minor structural damage in Tuesday's quake and the playing field was affected by "liquefaction" - when the force of tremor's shaking turns the ground into a quagmire.