World Cup 2014 organisers admit major grounds for concern

Draw takes place against background of three stadiums being well behind schedule

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 01:00

Fifa will host the draw for the World Cup finals today at the end of a week of mounting concerns over Brazil’s readiness to stage the tournament.

On Wednesday, organisers admitted several stadiums were well behind schedule.

The main concern is the delays at three of the 12 stadiums which will host games. Six venues are ready having being used since last year’s Confederations Cup. But of the other six due to be delivered by the end of this month, only three will be handed over in early January.

The others – in Cuiabá, Curitiba and São Paulo – will now be completed even later.

Up until yesterday the ground causing most worry was in the southern city of Curitiba, which Fifa expects to be finished only at the end of February.

But yesterday Fifa president Sepp Blatter said the ground for the opening venue, in São Paulo, would not be ready until the middle of April, just 60 days before the tournament kicks off there.

And today’s draw is coming just a week after two workers were killed in an accident at the stadium.

“Fifa has to ask God and Allah that there isn’t another accident before the World Cup,” said Blatter yesterday, saying Fifa had no “Plan B”.

An indication of the concern within Fifa came with the news it will reduce the number of tickets available for the three delayed venues, holding many back from sale until the grounds are finally delivered into its hands.

But despite the concerns, Brazil’s sports minister Aldo Rebelo sounded unconcerned when discussing the delays this week, expressing confidence that everything would be ready on time.

‘Everything will be delivered’
“The World Cup is a party for two people. In one hundred per cent off the marriages I witnessed, the bride arrives late. And I never saw a marriage not happen because of this. It is probable there will be one or another delays, but the most important is that everything will be delivered,” he told journalists at the draw centre on Wednesday.

Despite the tournament looming into view Rebelo has sounded increasingly demob happy in recent weeks. The suspicion is his heart is not in the job. He recently announced he would quit the sports ministry just months before the World Cup to launch a quixotic bid for the governorship of São Paulo state in elections next year.

Faced with having an interim minister in charge of the country’s biggest ever international event Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff pressured Rebelo into staying on, but his remarks to the press hardly indicate intense focus on the task in hand.

And intense focus is what Brazil needs right now. Rather than stadiums, many Brazilians worry if the country’s air network will be ready for the tournament. Several of the airports that will funnel visiting fans to venues spread out across the world’s fifth biggest country still have the builders in.

The new terminal at Brazil’s main international airport, in São Paulo, is a concrete shell. Authorities say it will be ready in May, in time for the tournament. But rather than a soft opening the terminal’s complex logistics face a test of fire as it helps handle the biggest surge in foreign visitors in the country’s history, with around 500,000 fans expected to travel to Brazil for the tournament.

The already overloaded air network has long been identified as a possible bottleneck that could inconvenience fans during the tournament.

Hotel beds
The northeastern city of Fortaleza has just 40,000 hotel beds available but a stadium with a capacity for 64,000 fans.

Even trying to get 15,000 fans in and out of the city on the day of a match would represent 90 flights, squeezed into the hours before and after the game. Such logistics are, according to the president of Brazil’s fourth largest domestic carrier, causing “great anxiety” in the air sector.

With the expectation that hotel and transport capacity will be strained across the country, Brazil’s already high prices have already soared, with reports already flooding the media of gouging by hoteliers.

In response, the government announced the creation of a ministerial committee to “monitor” prices, promising to tackle abuses.

That could cause further tension with Fifa, whose hospitality partner, Match, has blocked booked hotels in host cities for its own expensive package deals, creating a shortage of reasonably priced rooms.

Despite the bumpy countdown to the finals Fifa have sought to show confidence in Brazil’s efforts. “I have to express our trust and confidence in the organisation here in Brazil,” the organisation’s president Sepp Blatter said somewhat stoically earlier this week.

But behind the scenes the organisation is worried – and not only about stadiums and airports. The Confederations Cup provided a rude shock when what Blatter is fond of calling “the country of football” erupted in street protests, with demonstrators criticising the amounts of public money being spent on the tournament and even clashed with riot police outside several stadiums during matches.

Street demonstrations
“After the street demonstrations during the Confederations Cup Fifa are very nervous about the staging of the World Cup next year,” says David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer. “Renewed protests and continuing controversy are damaging the “World Cup” brand and that is the organisation’s one cash cow.

“It pays for everything else it does. But at this stage there is little Fifa can now do as in reality all they do is “loan out” their World Cup brand to the host country so now they are reliant on the Brazilians.”

Since last June the protests have dwindled into small, localised demonstrations in poor neighbourhoods or high-profile clashes between tiny groups of anarchists and police in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

But no-one knows if the mass demonstrations will flare up again when the eyes of the world turn towards the country in June.

Even if they do Fifa will still make around $4 billion from the World Cup in Brazil thanks to ticket sales, TV and sponsorship deals.

But it is already looking forward to a more tranquil run-up to the 2018 version, due to be held in Russia. Earlier this year Fifa’s general secretary Jérôme Valcke said “less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup”, saying he expected fewer problems in the land of Putin, a statement which says much more about Fifa than any of the criticisms levelled at Brazil.