Brazil Stadium Avoids Exclusion From World Cup Tournament

Soccer governing body FIFA decided a stadium in the Brazilian city of Curitiba will be ready in time for the World Cup, saving the host nation from the humiliation of losing a venue less than four months before the tournament.

FIFA announced the decision after its team of specialists reported back on the progress of construction at the Arena da Baixada. Work had fallen behind schedule because of delays in financing the project.

Zurich-based FIFA’s second most-senior official, General Secretary Jerome Valcke, last month warned that the southern city could be dropped from the program if there wasn’t a clear plan in place to show how the stadium could be made ready ahead of the June 12 tournament kickoff.

“Today our technical team went to the Curitiba stadium and had a meeting with the mayor and they’ve received a 36-page report about the situation in Curitiba,” Valcke said at a news conference in the southern coastal city of Florianopolis. “They have been working well and there’s no other decision you can make other than keeping Curitiba on the list of 12 host cities.”

Valcke said the stadium will remain under constant monitoring and that FIFA is expecting it to be in condition to host a World Cup game by “around” May 15. The tournament begins June 12 in Sao Paulo.

Stadium Delays

The removal of Curitiba would have been the biggest blow yet to Brazil’s troubled preparations to stage sport’s most-watched event for the first time since 1950. The build-up has been marred by a series of crises, notably delays in building stadiums and infrastructure on which Brazil is spending 25.6 billion reais ($10.7 billion). Six workers have also been killed in accidents on stadium construction sites, including four since November.

FIFA has never dropped a World Cup host city. Losing the Arena Baixada would have created severe problems for tournament organizers with several thousand tickets for the four games to be played there already sold. The first is between Iran and Nigeria on June 16.

Brazil’s deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said Brazil would learn lessons from the experience of Curitiba and that the delays haven’t hurt Brazil’s reputation.

Brazil’s Image

“I think at the end of the day Brazil’s image in the world will be determined by what people see in the World Cup,” Fernandes said at the press conference, where he sat alongside Valcke. “They will see beautiful stadiums, comfortable stadiums, stadiums that didn’t exist before.”

Officials in Curitiba had said last year that the stadium would be ready a month before FIFA’s December 2013 deadline. Work there has not only been delayed but also faced cost overruns, and the latest estimate of 330 million reais is 78 percent more than the original budget. In December, Brazil’s government released figures that showed costs for the World Cup stadiums had swelled 43 percent to 8 billion reais.

In January, FIFA President Sepp Blatter criticized Brazil for its tardiness in preparing for the World Cup after it was awarded hosting rights in 2007.

“Brazil has just realized what it means to organize a World Cup,” Blatter told Swiss newspaper 24 Heures. “They started a lot too late. It is the country which is the furthest behind since I’ve been at FIFA and, moreover, it’s the only one that had so much time -- seven years -- to prepare itself.”

Growing Criticism

Brazil is a record five-time World Cup champion, and soccer is by far the most-popular sport in the country. That hasn’t stopped growing public criticism about the amount of money the country is spending to put on the month-long event. More than 1 million people took to the streets in protests over a range of issues, including the World Cup costs, during last year’s Confederations Cup, a warm-up event for this year’s tournament.

Valcke, saying FIFA had committed $1.4 billion of its own resources on staging the World Cup, criticized two other host cities, after officials there said they were no longer prepared to follow through with certain guarantees they’d made to tournament organizers.

The northeastern coastal city of Recife said Feb. 14 it was no longer willing to use public resources for FIFA’s Fan Fest, an outdoor screening venue for fans without tickets, at this year’s event. The owner of a new stadium being built in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, said it was no longer able to pay the $20 million reais needed to equip the facility with temporary structures needed to host World Cup games.

“It’s an obligation of the host cities,” Valcke said. “The cities have to do their own work.”

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