With Cup a month away, a lot to be done in Brazil
By TALES AZZONI
AP Sports Writer
SAO PAULO (AP) -- It's all coming down to the final 30 days.
Brazil had seven years to get ready for the World Cup, but it enters the final month of preparations with a lot yet to be done.
Three stadiums are still under construction, some of the temporary structures needed for matches are delayed and it remains unclear if all cities will have time to organize the mandatory fanfests.
It's already known that not all infrastructure will be completed no matter how much organizers rush before the June 12 opener. The government acknowledges that communications inside stadiums won't be perfect, unfinished airports remain a concern and there are widespread threats of violent protests by Brazilians complaining about the billions of dollars spent to organize the tournament.
Brazilian officials guarantee everything will be fine. FIFA remains concerned.
"All arrangements are being made to guarantee a successful tournament," says Brazil's sports ministry, which is in charge of getting the country ready for the World Cup. "The meetings to finalize the operational plans in the varied areas involved in the event's preparations will be concluded this week in all 12 host cities."
Jerome Valcke, secretary general for soccer's governing body, says there's no time to waste.
"I would not say it's not ready, but it's not finished," he said recently.
"You feel that the competition is coming, so there is an excitement," Valcke told FIFA.com. "In the meantime, it's important to test everything and making sure it's working. The pressure is there to make sure we will be perfectly ready."
The local governments have the responsibility of making sure everything is working to receive the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the monthlong tournament, from transportation to public services to security.
FIFA is worried mostly about the stadiums where the 64 matches will be played. It wanted all venues completed by the end of last year, but Brazil was not able to get half of them ready in time. Many will not host all the test events that were planned.
Among the three stadiums under construction is the Itaquerao, where the opener between Brazil and Croatia will be played. There will be some 14,000 guests among the nearly 70,000 people in attendance, including many heads of state.
Some of the 20,000 temporary seats needed for the opener are still being installed, and the only official test event planned for the Itaquerao takes place Sunday, about three weeks before the opener. It won't even happen in front of a full crowd, with only 40,000 fans allowed into the venue.
"For the World Cup it will all be 100 percent ready," said Andres Sanchez, who is in charge of the stadium's construction.
Another unfinished stadium is the Arena da Baixada in the southern city of Curitiba, which was nearly excluded from the tournament by FIFA this year. The first full test at the venue is scheduled for this week.
"There were some setbacks in some of these stadiums," said Brazil's Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, who has been arduously downplaying the delays. "Everything will be ready."
There is also concern with the temporary structures at the Beira-Rio Stadium in southern Porto Alegre, and the other incomplete venue is the Arena Pantanal in the western city of Cuiaba, which is only expected to host an official test event at the end of the month.
Cuiaba is one of the cities where authorities acknowledge some infrastructure work planned for the World Cup will not be ready. Projects also won't be done in many other cities, including at airports that will be crucial for the travel of teams and fans.
In the northeastern city of Recife, local authorities still haven't found private partners to host the fanfest, which allows fans without tickets to watch matches for free on large screens in public areas. FIFA has threatened to sue the cities that don't organize the event.
Brazil was the sole candidate when it was selected as host in 2007, but it took a long time before any World Cup work began.
"It is difficult. Maybe we should have involved the Brazilian government before," said Valcke, who recently acknowledged that FIFA has learned lessons from all the problems in Brazil and "will act differently" in Russia in four years.
Brazil is scrambling in great part because it pushed to stage the tournament in 12 cities instead of the eight that FIFA wanted. Brazilian federation president Ricardo Teixeira, who resigned in 2012 while implicated in taking tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks from World Cup deals, made the push mostly to please his political supporters at the time.
Brazil's is expected to spend $11.7 billion on the World Cup, although the government says that long term the country could receive an economic boost of as much as $180 billion.
The high costs, blamed in part by the late rush to get projects done, ignited a wave of public criticism from a population already tired of poor public services and widespread corruption. Many of the protests during last year's Confederations Cup were aimed at FIFA, and more are expected next month.
"It is easy to criticize FIFA, it's easy to use the Confederations Cup or World Cup to organize demonstrations," Valcke said. "But the target is wrong if the target is that FIFA are the reason for what's happening in a country. If a country is bidding for a World Cup, it's with the idea of developing the country and not with the idea of destroying the country."
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni