Brazil facing challenges in 2014 WCup preparations

AP, Friday 25 Feb 2011

Brazil is facing serious hurdles in its race to upgrade airports, improve infrastructure and build stadiums before the 2014 World Cup, according to a report from a government watchdog

Brazil World Cup 2014

In a key year in which work on several World Cup projects is supposed begin so that they can be completed before the football matches kickoff, the Brazilian Audit Court warned of shortcomings in the planning and execution of work across the nation.

Officials at all levels are being blasted for missing deadlines, not controlling costs and for a lack of transparency in government actions, according to the report from the Audit Court, responsible for overseeing how the Brazilian government spends public money.

Brazil's World Cup organizing committee didn't return phone messages and e-mails left for comment on the report on Friday.

There are issues with urban transportation improvements in some host cities and even doubts whether the crown jewel of Brazilian football _ Maracana Stadium in Rio _ will be ready as scheduled, the report said.

The warning comes just days after football great Pele and former FIFA President Joao Havelange expressed concerns about the pace of preparations for football's biggest tournament.

The report, published Wednesday, said there is a "very great risk" of misuse of public funds, to the level of what happened in the preparations for the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, when the government acknowledged that it made serious mistakes in planning and financing for that Olympic-style event.

Airport renovations in most of the 12 host cities are expected to only begin this year and the report said problems with bidding processes and environmental licensing may cause delays in upgrading Brazil's woeful air transport infrastructure.

That's already the case with the Viracopos airport in Campinas, near Sao Paulo. Upgrade work there is behind schedule because of difficulties getting the necessary environmental licenses. Delays in bidding processes is what is hurting work at the Salvador airport in northeastern Brazil, according to the report.

Faltering airport infrastructure and lack of capacity is one of the main concerns ahead of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Even without those major events, the booming Brazilian economy is rapidly increasing the number of passengers the airports serve as a growing middle class begins using air travel more frequently. Beyond that, most airports will need significant upgrades just to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the monthlong tournament in 2014, officials say.

The audit court already warned last year that renovations in some airports may not be completed by 2014.

Stadium construction is another reason for concern.

Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city, has yet to have a stadium project approved by FIFA even though the deadline from the governing body expired last year. Corinthians football club says it will build a World Cup-worthy venue, but there is still discussion about whether it will be able to host the tournament's opening match, as had been planned for Sao Paulo.

Maracana, likely to host the final, has seen a significant increase in its renovation budget, and the report said authorities face a tight deadline to get the stadium ready according to the original timeline. The famed venue is also expected to be used in the 2013 Confederations Cup, further increasing pressure.

In addition, the Nacional stadium in the capital Brasilia runs the risk of becoming a "white elephant" _ a stadium rarely used by local teams after the tournament, despite having a seating capacity of 71,000. The Amazonia Arena in Manaus is simply an "incomplete and deficient" project, the audit court said, and in Natal it's not even clear which construction companies will start building the Dunas Arena.

The delays have prompted criticism from local media and from some of the country's top football figures.

Havelange, the FIFA president from 1974-98, last week told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper that he thought stadium construction was slow and that the Brazilian government needed to pick up the pace.

Pele said Brazil was facing a "big risk of being embarrassed" because of delays in stadium construction and in the modernization and renovation of the nation's overcrowded and saturated airports.

The report also points to possible delays in projects to improve urban transport in cities like Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte and Recife.

In Rio, authorities are facing accusations they are violating citizens' human rights by forcing slum dwellers to move to make way for the construction of a transit system. Residents of three shantytowns recently filed a complaint with the Organization of American States, saying that the city is arbitrarily relocating them. Eventual pressure by the international body could lead to project changes and delays.

In northeastern Natal, court orders have slowed down bidding process for city projects linked to the World Cup, and Salvador is facing difficulties finishing World Cup-related construction work because of missed deadlines.

In the jungle city of Manaus, a monorail project "may not be concluded before the 2014 World Cup," the report said.

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