Brazil World Cup preparations still on shaky ground

Jan. 24, 2014 at 5:08 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- FIFA leaders meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff sought assurances unfinished venues for the World Cup will be ready before the opening June 12.

Despite an amicable meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Thursday that brought Rousseff face to face with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Brazilian officials were again under pressure to show behind-schedule construction projects were progressing as promised.

Worst hit, and under spotlight, is host city Curitiba in the southern Parana state, where an incomplete football stadium, the Arena da Baixada, has put at risk the economy of the city of 1.7 million.

FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke warned of the possibility that Curitiba could be excluded as a host city. Work at the Arena da Baixada stadium is seriously behind schedule, he said.

FIFA will decide Feb. 18 whether Curitiba can remain a host city.

Brazil's World Cup malaise runs deeper, as six out of 12 venues are still unfinished. Delays in the preparation of infrastructural works, roads, airports and hotel accommodation aren't even discussed as the focus remains on the venues.

Plans call for the 42,000-seaty Curitiba stadium to host four matches -- Spain-Australia, Honduras-Ecuador, Iran-Nigeria and Algeria-Russia. But Valcke said the stadium's present state was "very complicated."

After Thursday's talks with Rousseff, the FIFA senior team emerged pacified but the warnings to Curitiba continued.

Valcke said before the talks the stadium "failed to meet any of the deadlines set by FIFA."

"We cannot organize a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point," he said.

He hoped FIFA talks with the city's officials about meeting construction targets would produce the desired results and not see the city excluded from the Cup.

Amid the flap over incomplete venues, Brazil is having to deal with unresolved problems in infrastructure sectors seen as critical to the events.

Airlines, hotels, transportation companies have all taken flak over gouging. Passengers complained some airfares went up ten-fold for flights before and during the June-July games.

Brazilian media and regional officials have been urging tourism, transport and leisure industries to go easy on overcharging visitors.

Brazilian security authorities say they're keeping armed gangs, drug traffickers, prostitution rings and other organized crime franchises under close watch but there already have been incidents in major World Cup venues. Critics accused police of heavy-handed treatment of potential troublemakers.

A U.N. fact-finding mission that visited Brazil last year cited 550,000 arrests and news media reported more arrests this year.

Organizers expect as many as 600,000 foreign visitors and about 3 million domestic fans to attend the World Cup, which runs from June 12 to July 13.

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