Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba has been granted a reprieve and will be kept on as a World Cup host city, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke confirmed on Tuesday.
The news was confirmed on Valcke’s personal Twitter account ahead of appearing before members of the press at the FIFA Workshop in Florianópolis:
Valcke continued that: “It’s a race against a very tight timeline. Collective effort by all the stakeholders involved in Curitiba must continue at highest pace.”
Even before the official FIFA announcement came, Curitiba mayor Gustavo Fruet had confirmed to local media that the city would remain in World Cup, citing an earlier telephone conversation with the FIFA Secretary General to inform the mayor what would be said at the press conference.
Valcke said Curitiba had understood the pressure it faced but had convinced FIFA that it could finish the job on time.
Curitiba is due to host four first-round fixtures, starting on 16 June with Iran v Nigeria, and followed by Honduras v Ecuador on 20 June, Australia v Spain on 23 June, and Alegria v Russia on 26 June.
FIFA’s biggest headache
Valcke told reporters on Tuesday that the Curitiba stadium, known as the Arena da Baixada, would be handed over to FIFA on or around 15 May, a month before holding its first World Cup fixture, and that at least two test matches – one at the end of March, one at the end of April – would be conducted ahead of this.
The decision was made as FIFA’s Charles Botta visited the stadium. Workers reportedly scrambled to cover muddy patches in the stadium entrance just before the official arrived, Folha reported.
This inspection, plus ‘guarantees’ from Curitiba, finally convinced FIFA that the city should be retained as a World Cup host.
The city’s newly-renovated 41,500-seater stadium has been FIFA’s biggest headache in the run-up to the tournament, and even now is only reportedly 90 percent ready and is the country’s most delayed stadium.
Last week some Brazilian media outlets, including Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, said FIFA had started working on contingency plans to move games schedule to be held in Curitiba to nearby stadiums – likely to include Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte – but this was denied by FIFA and local officials.
However, most Brazilian commentators said it would have been unthinkable to many for Curitiba to have lost its World Cup venue status: both for a local government that is in an election year and for FIFA itself in effect to admit that it had lost control of one of its tournament’s host cities.
Beset by funding delays
Local officials say one of the main reasons that the Arena da Baixada has been so delayed was that crucial funding was delayed.
After private funding of R$234 million (US$97.5 million) to renovate the 100-year-old stadium ran out, an extra R$90 million of public money was pledged used to get the stadium finished. Local authorities recently released another R$39 million for additional workers.
Even so, it is the cheapest of the twelve World Cup stadium projects, alongside the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre.
It is understood that both private and public sources came up against severe delays securing and receiving funding from the country’s National Development Fund Bank, the BNDES.
However, concerns over safety have also contributed, after work at the stadium was temporarily halted in October 2013 after a slew of reported safety breaches.
Public reaction to the news
A sense of relief now reigns among Curitibanos – people from Curitiba. Among them is 24-year-old student Ricardo Becker, who has tickets for the match on 23 June when Australia take on reigning champions Spain:
“I’m thrilled. It would have been a real shame if not, not to mention testament to a city’s incompetence and lack of accountability. Even so, I do resent how overpriced the work on the stadium has been and how public money has gone missing,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Communication corodinator Camila Tremea, 29, said she was also relieved, given the amount of time and money that has already been invested by the city in the project: “With just a few months to go to the World Cup, you couldn’t have taken it away from the city. The city’s businesses have prepared for this.”
Leonardo Bittencourt, a 35-year-old English teacher also from Curitiba, told AA he thought the World Cup would be a “good thing” for both Curitiba and Brazil as a whole, as it should improve its international image in the end, despite the “obscene amounts of money apparently wasted and misappropriated,” he added.
Coaches of all 32 qualifying FIFA World Cup teams have gathered in Florianópolis, one of Brazil’s top beach resort cities, for a three-day workshop that is traditionally used to thrash out the finer details of World Cup rules and regulations, logistics and the like.
Delegation leaders, team managers, security and medical officials and members of the press from World Cup finalist nations are taking part in the event, which should ideally be held at a time when the finishing touches are being put in place by the World Cup host nation.
However, this time the seminar has been overshadowed by speculation Curitiba would be stripped of its hosting rights, which was in the end proved incorrect.
Edited, extended version of article written for Anadolu Agency