Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro are the ‘worst’ ever seen, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice president said on Tuesday.

The majority of the Olympic events, which begin in August 2016, will be held at four sites around Rio, but construction of some of the venues has not yet started, the IOC said.

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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

Curitiba's Arena da Baixada. Photo by Reuters.

Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada is one of the World Cup’s cheaper stadiums and will seat 41,500 people. (Photo: Reuters)

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.

Workshop overshadowed

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