Plagued by delays, accidents and financial issues in the latest stages of preparations, four of Brazil’s 12 World Cup stadiums are still in danger of not hosting football’s biggest tournament this summer.
Although cleared by FIFA, venues in Curitiba, Cuiabá, São Paulo and Porto Alegre still have massive work ahead in the next few weeks if they are to be fit for purpose between June 12 and July 13. The official deadline for completion expired on December 31 last year.
Curitiba’s case is the most complicated one. Organisers had to wait until last Tuesday to avoid humiliation and see FIFA clear their Arena da Baixada, which is only 90% complete. But extra builders (1,500 now), completion of the roof and 15,000 seats in place were not the main reasons for secretary general Jerôme Valcke's approval - it was all about Brazilian taxpayers' money.
FIFA secretary general Valcke and deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes confirm Curitiba's place
Now that about £16 million extra has been granted, the renovation works will carry on in Curitiba - once a model city for planning - until May 15. That means little time for tests and fixing anything wrong. Curitiba will host four matches, one of them featuring champions Spain against Australia. Their venue will (hopefully) be ready less than one month from kick-off in São Paulo.
That opener too is still at risk. After an accident which killed two builders in November, Arena Corinthians still hasn't had the last piece of the metallic structure installed. The damaged area, about 5% of the whole venue, is basically untouched because of forensics. Their deadline is April 15, and although there is more confidence in this one, work is far from over.
Cuiabá is the latest venue in trouble. A fire that affected part of the Arena Pantanal could have impacted more than organisers are willing to admit, local prosecutors say. Tests will be done and re-done in the coming days to determine whether the stadium's structure has been damaged or not. Courts could halt the construction. In the surrounding area, 11 of 13 works have shown problems.
The unfinished Cuiaba stadium in December 2013
The last of the four endangered stadiums is Porto Alegre’s Beira-Rio. The venue itself is ready, but the surroundings definitely aren’t. Internacional chairman Giovanni Luigi said last week that his stadium could be out of the World Cup if there isn’t a financial agreement on who will pay for the works there. Brazilian goverment officials took it as lobby to pass the bill onto someone else.
Although late too, the venues in Natal and Manaus are about to be completed and have test matches scheduled in the coming weeks. Venues in Rio, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza are ready for football’s pièce de résistance, since they were prepared for last year’s Confederation’s Cup. FIFA insist they can organise the tournament with eight stadia.
“We are confident all the stadia will be ready for the cup of cups,” says Brazilian sports minister, Aldo Rebelo. “Massive events aren’t easy to put together, we’ve had our difficulties, but I am sure we have what it takes.”
Brazilian media aren’t so sure. International media, even less. There's a bumpy road ahead for the World Cup, and one that isn’t likely to end even when the tournament begins.