Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Brazil’s Senate is set to vote on previously-shelved legislation banning corporate election donations after pressure from thousands of ordinary Brazilians, online activist network Avaaz reported on Thursday.

A group of 60 senators signed an urgent vote request for the newly-amended bill after receiving thousands of emails and phone calls as part of an online campaign spearheaded by the network.

“Our politicians have been for sale for far too long, with the World Cup stadiums showing how out-of-control this has become,” Avaaz campaign director Michael Freitas Mohallem said.

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – A worker at the Arena Pantanal World Cup stadium in Brazil has died after being electrocuted, a government official said on Thursday.

The man, named as 32-year-old Muhammad-Ali Maciel Afonso, worked for Etel Engenharia, a company enlisted to install a telecommunications network in the stadium in Cuiabá, capital of the central-western state of Mato Grosso.

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The construction company behind the Arena São Paulo stadium that will open this year’s World Cup on 12 June was given an ultimatum on Wednesday to implement four emergency safety orders to allow a partial suspension on work at the site to be lifted.

Arena São Paulo. Photo: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters/1Apr14

Arena São Paulo on 1 April 2014. Photo: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters.

Earlier this week an inspection by fire services, ordered after a fatal accident on Saturday, found 26 irregularities and work was halted on part of the stadium.

A local public prosecutor asked fire services to provide a shortlist of top-priority emergency measures that needed be taken to get the stadium back on track, in response to which four major demands were set out.

In an interview with GloboNews, local prosecutor José Carlos de Freitas warned that if steps were not taken, “that partial ban on these areas, in theory, could extend to even when the stadium is officially open or mid World Cup.”

Odebrecht, the overall construction company behind the stadium, vowed to carry out necessary actions; the authorities will reassess the site next week.

Delays and safety concerns at the Arena São Paulo, also known as the Arena Corinthians or the Itaquerão, were already proving to be the biggest headache for tournament organisers FIFA.

To the wire

The stadium’s revised delivery schedule is for mid-April, but construction overseers had already admitted work will not be completely finished by then.

But this was further complicated by Saturday’s tragedy where a worker fell eight metres while working on the stadium’s temporary stands. He later died of his injuries.

Fábio Hamilton da Cruz became the third person to perish at the stadium, after two men died in November when a crane manoeuvring a section of roofing collapsed.

There have now been eight deaths at World Cup stadiums in the country.

Some have expressed concerns that construction is being rushed to meet deadlines and safety concerns, even after the two November fatalities, have been left lacking.

Two other stadiums, in Curitiba and Cuiabá are also way behind schedule, however Cuiabá’s Arena Pantanal was officially opened on Wednesday, 71 days before the start of the tournament and just hours before its first test match.

Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada has now held its first game, albeit with just a fraction of seating areas open.

FIFA also considers Porto Alegre unfinished, although it has now been official opened. Some lingering concerns about temporary structure remain.

UPDATE: Speaking from South Africa (host of the 2010 World Cup) on Wednesday, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke said that neither FIFA nor Brazil were ready for the World Cup: “If you want me to summarise, we are not ready.”

Beset by problems

The run-up for the World Cup, which should have been a time of growing expectation for the “Land of Football”, has been beset by major delays, budget overruns, and a slew of scaled-down or scrapped infrastructure projects.

Although smaller than those seen last June during the Confederations Cup, street protests have also continued and a major demonstration is planned for opening night in São Paulo.

The government had promised a swift response to any vandalism or other violence and police have undergone special training for general crowd control, protests and riots.

New loosely-worded “anti-terror” legislation being rushed through parliament to target potential troublemakers has been criticised by civil rights groups as too general and unnecessary.

There has also been particular concern at some World Cup stadiums over temporary structures for security and hospitality.

Work to install a telecommunications network required by the sports broadcaster and other media has not even begun in São Paulo, reports say. The network should have been in place 90 days before the start of the tournament for testing.

Despite recently saying that it was confident the remaining unfinished work on stadiums would be ready in time, FIFA has now ordered all stadiums not to stage matches after 20 May, according to Globo Esportes.

Five-time World Champions and gunning for a record-extending sixth title, Brazil has already announced a six-week hiatus in its football championship from 1 June while the World Cup, last held in the country in 1950, is being held.

Written for Anadolu Agency – SÃO PAULO – 2 April 2014

A construction worker died at the Arena São Paulo World Cup stadium on Saturday – the third death at the site.

It is the eighth fatality linked to World Cup construction work in Brazil to have occurred during the country’s preparations for the football tournament.

Arena São Paulo, Corinthians, Itaquerão Stadium. Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena stadium will host the opening match of Brazil's World Cup as planned, says FIFA president. Photo: AFP/Miguel Schincariol.

Three workers have now died at the Arena São Paulo in World Cup construction work. Photo: AFP/Miguel Schincariol.

The worker, named as 23-year-old Fabio Hamilton da Cruz, sustained the fatal injuries after falling from height on Saturday morning while installing the flooring for the stadium’s temporary stands.

Emergency services at the scene reported the man fell around 15 metres. The construction company carrying out the work, Fast Engenharia, said he fell around eight metres, adding that he had been using all appropriate safety gear at the time of the incident.

Mr Cruz was taken to a local hospital for urgent medical intervention but later died of his injuries, the hospital confirmed to local media on Saturday afternoon.

The football team behind the stadium, Corinthians, has announced three days of mourning in connection with the incident.

The construction company that subcontracted Fast Engenharia, WDS Construções, for whom Mr Cruz worked, said it deeply regretted the death and that it was providing assistance to his family.

General Secretary of FIFA, Jérôme Valcke, said on his official Twitter accounts in English and Portuguese that he was “deeply saddened” by the death:


Work continues

Despite the incident, Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported that work continued at the site on Saturday afternoon, with police cordoning off just the area directly associated with the morning’s events.

GloboNews reported that the stadium’s general construction company, Odebrecht, said that work would not be delayed further by the incident.

The stadium – known as the Arena Corinthians or Itaquerão – is far behind schedule and workers are rushing to finish construction of the venue ahead of the World Cup opener on June 12, when Brazil take on Croatia. The stadiums will also hold five other World Cup fixtures.

The 48,000-seater stadium is having approximately 20,000 additional, temporary seats added for the FIFA tournament.

It is not the first death at the São Paulo stadium, nor at the other twelve host city sites.

In November 2013 two workers died at the São Paulo stadium after a crane manoeuvring part of the stadium’s roofing into place collapsed.

Eight people have now died in relation to work at World Cup sites, including one man who died as a result of a heart attack which his family say was brought on by punishing hours at the World Cup site in Manaus.

Saturday’s tragedy comes just days after Valcke said progress at the Arena São Paulo remained a concern, with delays exacerbated by an arguments over who is responsible for paying for temporary facilities to be used only during the World Cup.

Work also continues at stadiums in Curitiba and Cuiabá.

Written for Anadolu Agency

Rio building collapse, January 2012

The last thing Rio wants - with two years to go before it hosts the World Cup - is images like this showing up on news channels and in newspapers.

Last week’s multiple-building collapse in downtown Rio was big news around the world. Not unsurprisingly, given Rio will be hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, and tourists would probably rather their hotel stay in one piece.

Aside from covering it for The Rio Times, I was on Canadian CTV News and BBC radio – trying to put as fair a spin on it as possible, while feeling it was a real pity I wasn’t conveying something more upbeat about Rio.

Yes, it was terrible; no, it wasn’t totally unexpected; yes, Rio will have to put its socks up before these sporting mega-events; no, you can’t expect perfection from a country that’s still developing; yes, the quality of its infrastructure still needs to catch up with the zeros on its bank balance; no, this doesn’t justify the loss of life.

Brazil might be the world’s 6th biggest economy now, but it is still growing and adapting to its new-found wealth – which is still split extremely unfairly among the country’s 205 million-strong population. Yes, the country’s middle class is growing – and at quite a lick – but no one’s kidding themselves that Lula really solved all of Brazil’s woes in eight years in office.

Rio was very lucky, if you can say that, to escape with only seventeen deaths from this building collapse. This area, Cinelândia – Centro, is Rio’s commercial heartland (along with its more recent Barra business district), with Petrobras’ HQ and the Metropolitan Cathedral nearby, and only the fact that it was 8:30pm when the collapse happened meant a higher death toll was avoided. It’s also on Rio’s secondary tourist trail – for those who venture inland from Rio’s stunning beaches in Copacabana and panoramic views from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Corcovado.

Theatro Municipal, Rio Jan 2011, photo by Ben Tavener

The buildings which collapsed were directly behind the 100-year-old Theatro Municipal, photo by Ben Tavener (Jan 2011).

Questions are inevitably being asked as to how three buildings could collapse – one 20 storeys tall, one 10 storeys, and a joining five-storey section – on the same block as the century-old Theatro Municipal (pictured), one of Rio’s most recognisable human-built landmarks.

It’s likely that no one factor was involved here.

Having spoken to a number of industry specialists in the past few days, it seems that, whether or not illegal construction work going on in the 20-storey building triggered the collapse, a good deal of other factors would have helped bring it down.

Yes, constructing buildings quickly and on the cheap – to keep up with Rio’s booming real estate markets and demand for new buildings – means that the workers and material used will not be of best quality. But this is just one factor.

Another is Rio’s tropical climate – temperatures regularly in the high 30Cs, with moist sea air, shifting soils.

Together, buildings age fast – and if new buildings are put up around them, then the land is again shaken and disrupted; add in the metro rumbling underneath and the substandard electric, water and gas infrastructure (which occasionally leads to manhole covers exploding in the streets, and led to a lethal explosion in a restaurant last November) – then you start to see a different pictures than just “they took out the wrong wall and it collapsed”.

However, there can be no denying that Rio needs to take its buildings more seriously. For the sake of its own people as much as its millions of tourists.

The experts tell me building plans are often poor or missing altogether, and engineers are often needed to second-guess how the building was originally put together. And that’s the people who bother finding out. Most just make alterations as they please, without the consent of the relevant authorities – as was the case with the works being carried out on the 20-storey Freedom Building, whose collapse last week killed so many.

Officials rushing to demand tighter regulation and drawing attention to Rio’s more positive sides may have averted Rio’s image being tarnished too severely on this occasion.

But another major PR disaster, with the World Cup and the Olympics looming large on the horizon, might be impossible to avoid.