With a little over 100 days remaining for 2014 Brazil World Cup, several thorny issues continue to plague FIFA management on the state of the host nation’s preparedness for football’s biggest 4-yearly event. With national economy in doldrums, Brazil is found wanting on unfinished stadiums, avoidable construction site fatalities and security issues. As of December 31, 2013, the deadline fixed by FIFA for completion of stadium construction work at six World Cup venues was yet to be finished. Even two months later, Curitiba stadium, which will host its first match on June 16, 2014, presents a woeful appearance. Iran and Nigeria will play their Group F league match in Curitiba. The world cup organizers in Brazil were warned in early January that Curitiba might be dropped as the venue if the progress of work didn’t improve. Somehow, FIFA reluctantly accorded a reprieve to Curitiba last week. The Governing Body, however, insisted that progress in making the venue ready should be stepped up in the highest gear to preclude any last-minute embarrassment. Brazilian world cup organizers have since brought hundreds of additional construction crew at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba to meet quick erection requirements to nullify the ignominy of being the first stadium to be excluded after being announced as a World Cup venue. Other than the Iran-Nigeria opener on June 16, the 40000-capacity stadium will host 3 more league matches on June 20, 23 and 26, 2014. While visiting the site recently, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke expressed concerns that the work was too much behind schedule. Valcke said that he was counting on the commitments made by Brazilian authorities but added that the race against strict timeline would require extreme monitoring measures. The Curitiba stadium is home to one of Brazil’s top football clubs, Atletico Paranaense.
Another stadium, which faced similar delay, was Natal’s Arena das Dunas. But the stadium was declared open a few days ago, by president Dilma Rousseff. She had come to the pitch and struck the ball from the center-spot to formally open the stadium. Ms. Rousseff is one worried woman, for whom the honor of the nation is intimately linked with successfully staging the World Cup. She was aware of the construction bottlenecks at Curitiba but she announced with great confidence that Curitiba football stadium will certainly be ready for the World Cup. From where she gets such optimism is a moot point.
By a tacitly accepted protocol, FIFA never talks about political problems in member nations. On the contrary, FIFA officials have often been accused of pleasing the politicians and businessmen in host countries and usually such approach results in easier facilitation of many works. But in case of Brazil, the situation appears to have gone out of hand. In November 2013, two construction workers died at Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo, when a crane collapsed on part of the roof. It is the same stadium, which is the venue of the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia. The damaged roof meant that the work on the stadium will not be completed until April 2014, barely six weeks before the most important match of the 2014 World Cup. Another death occurred at Manaus’s Arena da Amazonia, when a worker accidentally slipped from a roof and fell down. There are several complains from the construction crew about not having been paid for weeks.
The other problem is a public outcry on the terrible cost to the Brazilian and State governments, who have already sunk billions of dollars. Private financers have stayed away from participating in the stadium building and renovation works, because they do not see much profit accruing from venture funding. Since the public money is diverted to stadium construction, host of important infrastructure projects have either been cancelled or seriously delayed in many parts of Brazil. In Manaus, Salvador or other cities, planned rapid transit systems, railway and airport up-gradation and other projects have been quietly consigned to the back burner. The public protests over Brazil’s mounting expenditure in hosting the World Cup claimed the life of a photojournalist Santiago Andrade. Andrade, 49 was struck by a flaring device, when he was covering the anti-government demonstrations in Rio on behalf of Brazilian “Bandeirantes” TV network. The fire device exploded behind his head as he collapsed to the floor. He was immediately rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his injuries.
Despite the problems, Brazil is moving ahead with the sole objective of making the 2014 World Cup a resounding success. With time running out, the central and local government authorities are not leaving any stone unturned to protect the honor of their great nation. After inaugurating the Natal stadium, Ms. Rousseff went to Switzerland to take part in the global economic forum and used the opportunity to meet FIFA president Sam Blatter in Zurich. She assured Blatter that FIFA should spare any worry on Brazil’s readiness to stage the great event on its soil.
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