RIO DE JANEIRO -- With one month to go before the FIFA World Cup opens in Brazil, two new stadiums still haven’t had a full dress rehearsal, security concerns are mounting, and there are still big questions of how airports will handle the crush of traveling fans.
Brazil got off to a slow start in its World Cup preparations and this country where soccer is king has been playing catch-up ever since. Three of the arenas — Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Baixada in Curitiba and Cuiabá’s Pantanal stadium, where a worker was electrocuted and died Thursday — have cut delivery times precariously short.
As the countdown begins for the opening match — Brazil vs. Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12 — keeping potential violence in check also is shaping up as a major concern in some of the 12 World Cup host cities.
Even though FIFA, the international soccer governing organization, initially wanted work on all arenas completed by the end of last year, workers still were scurrying around last week at the three laggard stadiums.
The first full test event at the privately owned Curitiba stadium, which has been plagued by a recent workers’ strike and financing problems, is scheduled this Tuesday. The only full-capacity rehearsal at the new Sao Paulo arena, where three workers have died in construction accidents, is set for next Sunday.
During a press briefing in Zurich on Thursday, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke said for the Sao Paulo opener “we need to have a level of operation which is perfect.”
He said he’s also concerned about the fan experience. “I think the biggest challenges will be for them,” Valcke said. Not only will they find high prices in major cities, but they could face travel delays in a continent-sized country with limited transportation options.
Valcke leaves for Brazil Sundayto oversee final Cup preparations.
Skepticism about readiness is normal before any World Cup, said Delia Fischer, FIFA chief of media and communications.
Before the 2010 Cup in South Africa, she said, there also were concerns that stadiums wouldn’t be ready, and disparaging remarks that the event would be “the World Cup of Crime,’’ she said. “At the end, it was a great World Cup.”
But security concerns persist in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where a wave of crime prompted state police to put an extra 2,000 police on the streets Monday, far sooner than they had expected to be deployed for World Cup duty.
An analysis by O Globo newspaper showed that muggings around Rio’s Maracanã stadium — where the World Cup final will be played — had doubled in March, compared to the same period last year.
Protesters, who took to the streets last year during the Confederations Cup, also are expected to be out in force during the World Cup, protesting everything from the government’s World Cup outlay of $11.6 billion — to poor transportation and social services.
During the Confederations Cup, considered a tune-up for the World Cup, “all our planning was tested to the limit,’’ said Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes, “and I think we passed that test. In general, I am very confident.
“We are absolutely sure the World Cup is very good for Brazil,’’ he said.
Fernandes said the federal government has managed to stay below its World Cup investment ceiling of 33 billion reais (around $14.9 billion) — even though it has been accused of having to pick up cost over-runs on stadiums. “That perception is incorrect,’’ he said, “although I know it is widespread.”
However, the Associated Press reported on Monday that the cost of the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia has almost tripled to $900 million, and government auditors examining alleged price-gouging suspect that one-third of the high cost may be due to overpricing of materials.
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Other potential security challenges are a recent land occupation in Sao Paulo, where as many as 5,000 people are squatting within sight of the new Corinthians stadium, and continuing violence in some Rio shantytowns that are in the process of being “pacified’ by security forces.
The delay in delivering stadiums also hasn’t helped security preparations. “It’s not easy to make something secure when it’s not done,’’ said Frank Holder, chairman for Latin America of FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm.