Over budget and underprepared - Are Brazil's stadiums ready to host the World Cup?

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By Marcella Martha & Kris Voakes

A year from today, Brazil will kick off the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo to whet the appetite of the watching world ahead of a month that will remind everyone of just how amazing football can be. At least, that is the hope.

Concerns remain that the return of the game’s showpiece event to the South American nation for the first time in 64 years could well be undermined by infrastructural issues which are threatening to blight next summer’s tournament.

With construction delays, rising building costs, stand-offs with stakeholders, arguments with Fifa and teething problems aplenty, the preparations for the jamboree have been a constant source of conjecture for the watching world, and with 365 days to go before the event gets underway there remain countless problems to address for the competition’s Local Organising Committee (LOC).

Belo Horizonte (Estadio Mineirao)
Brasilia (Estadio Nacional)
Cuiaba (Arena Pantanal)
Curitiba (Arena da Baixada)
Fortaleza (Estadio Castelao)
Manaus (Arena Amazonia)
Natal (Estadio das Dunas)
Porto Alegre (Estadio Beira-Rio)
Recife (Arena Pernambuco)
Rio de Janeiro (Estadio do Maracana)
Salvador (Arena Fonte Nova)
Sao Paulo (Arena de Sao Paulo)

Stadiums in Brasilia and Salvador, both of which will also be used for this month’s Confederations Cup, appear a long way from ready to welcome the world’s football supporters, while work at arenas in Cuiaba and Porto Alegre has been abandoned on more than one occasion due to various wrangling between authorities.

Even the recent grand opening of the famous Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the World Cup final next July, was blighted by construction, administration and safety question marks, with a friendly between Brazil and England taking place at the stadium amidst a shroud of mystery over the steps taken to overcome a last-minute red-tape issue.

There were initial concerns that the match on June 2 would have to be cancelled because of the lack of a full safety certificate. An exhibition game played in April had acted as the opening test event for the Maracana, but issues arising from the clash between sides selected by former Brazil team-mates Bebeto and Ronaldo were not addressed in good time ahead of England’s visit.

The result was that the game was temporarily suspended by the Public Ministry, who had not been handed the safety certificates necessary to stage an event at the venue. However, while there was fear for the fixture internationally, locally it was a saga seen many times before. The decision was reversed the following day by a local judge, and the game went ahead.

Problems remained though. There was the continued presence of debris and rubbish on the stadium approach where unfinished work remains a blot on the World Cup centrepiece’s landscape. In the stadium itself, some concrete was still wet, hydraulic equipment and loose wires remained visible around the press area, there was dust over many seats and toilet blocks were flooded. While the authorities claimed the stadium was ready, it was clearly not.

Work continues on the arena, but at nowhere near the pace expected, and there has been further consternation over the feasibility study carried out on the stadium which resulted in the decision to drive regular fans away from the ground with high ticket prices. A popular local politician was even quoted as saying the reopening of the venue provided an opportunity to “change the profile of the football fan in Rio”.

Arena Fonte Nova | The Salvador stadium's projected model didn't account for roofing issues

Further afield, there have been further construction matters to worry the LOC. The Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, which is set to host three matches at this month’s Confederations Cup, has been hit with issues after its own inauguration. Following heavy rain, part of the stadium’s roof panelling collapsed under the weight of the accumulated water and is yet to be fixed. This comes on the back of complaints about the flooding of toilets, problems with parking spaces, broken seats and serious conflicts over tickets which blighted the reopening of the stadium for the local derby between Vitoria and Bahia.

Brasilia’s Estadio Nacional is set to host Brazil and Japan on Saturday in the opening game of the Confederations Cup, yet it too has been beset by delays, and its total construction cost has skyrocketed to such an extent that it now sits as the most expensive of all of the new World Cup stadiums. And since the state has no team in the top three divisions in the country’s football pyramid, it creates a potential white elephant of a complex even before the main event comes into town.

Politics has been a reason for some delays too. At the Maracana, workers went unpaid and were left complaining of working conditions which resulted in them downing tools for a lengthy period. The company responsible for the planning and execution of the renovation of the stadium is the same one responsible for Engenhao, the Olympic Stadium in Rio, which was recently shut down due to structural problems with the roof that are, according to a controversial report, threatening the integrity of the construction. It has become a huge source of controversy, along with the rising costs of the Maracana facelift which have long since topped R$1 billion (around €350,000).

Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba | Two construction companies abandoned work at the venue

The six World Cup arenas uninvolved in the Confederations Cup are not due to be handed over to Fifa until December 2013, yet many of those are also facing a significant race against time. The Cuiaba stadium, Arena Pantanal, had its work abandoned by two construction companies, and the third assigned company had to race ahead at greater speed than originally desired, but it is still not clear whether everything will be done in time. Sources in the city informed
Goal that almost none of the infrastructure works that were originally planned have started, and the ones that have begun remain far from completion.

The Arena Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre had work halted for 269 days due to misunderstandings between the company responsible for the work and Internacional, the club which owns the stadium. Internacional’s rivals Gremio had their stadium completed first, and there is an open discussion about whether Arena Porto Alegre (Gremio's new ground) should be assigned as the World Cup stadium, instead of Inter's. Yet that ground has also been hit by problems, with the protection screen separating the fans from the pitch having fallen during a famous goal celebration by Gremio fans known as the 'Avalanche', resulting in minor injuries to supporters.

The catalogue of issues continue, including the need to remodel substitutes' benches at all 12 stadiums at the loss of row upon row of seating. One year from today, Brazil is expected to be ready, but right now it appears unlikely. Fifa remains cautiously optimistic the World Cup stadiums will be handed over in fit and proper condition before the end of this year, but the teething problems being seen all over the country at venues which will be used for the Confederations Cup as early as this weekend offer no great boost in confidence. Add to that the results of a recent study, which showed the current projected cost for stadium work to top out at more than three times the bill in South Africa for the 2010 event, and there is plenty of cause for concern.

A country set to host three major tournaments in three years has a monumental 12 months ahead if the World Cup is to be a safe and successful event.

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