FIFA Leader Visits Brazil to Check on World Cup Readiness
FIFA Secretary General Valcke responds to a question during the 2014 World Cup Local Organizing Committee news conference in Rio de Janeiro. Sergio Moraes / Reuters
FIFA exists to make the cronies at the International Olympic Committee look slightly less terrible than they are. Brazil certainly has challenges, but nothing that FIFA’s meddling can assist with.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke will begin an inspection visit to Brazil on Monday amid a series of concerns about the country’s readiness for the 2014 World Cup.
Valcke will visit three host cities less than a week after Brazil’s sports minister said the pace of construction needs to be increased on five of the six stadiums that have to be completed by December.
The visit also comes just days after the government said it is concerned with price hikes of hotels listed on FIFA’s website, which could prompt an investigation into the FIFA-appointed agency in charge of accommodation.
There are also doubts about whether the upgrades needed at the country’s airports will be ready in time for the event that kicks off in less than 10 months.
Valcke is making his first visit to Brazil since the end of the Confederations Cup, the tournament that serves as a warm-up to the World Cup. He will check preparations in three of the 12 host cities — Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Manaus. The cities are among the six that have to finish their stadiums by the December deadline established by FIFA. The other six venues were completed, despite many delays, just in time for the Confederations Cup.
FIFA has already made it clear that it won’t tolerate the same problems faced during the Confederations Cup. Only four stadiums were completed by the original deadline.
Valcke’s first stop is in Sao Paulo, host of the World Cup’s opening match on June 12. There had been concerns about whether the stadium was going to be ready by December, but constructors picked up the pace in recent months and the Brazilian government said it’s not worried anymore.
That is not the case for the other five venues, and the delays prompted Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo to say last week that the host cities were “facing a tight deadline” and that there was a need “to improve the pace in most of the stadiums” to make sure they can be completed this year.
Four of the stadiums were less than 80 percent completed, including in Curitiba and Manaus, the other two cities visited by Valcke this week. The secretary general’s trip will end after he attends a board meeting of the local World Cup organizing committee on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro.
FIFA and the government want to get the stadiums ready this year so local organizers can host the necessary test events before the World Cup begins. FIFA usually wants at least three test events at each venue, but that wasn’t possible in most of the Confederations Cup stadiums because of construction delays.
And it’s not only the stadiums that could give Valcke reason for concern.
Brazil is facing a last-minute scramble to get its notoriously crowded and shabby airports into shape for the World Cup, with experts saying there is no room for error.
Upgrade work in nearly all of the airports isn’t expected to be finished before March, three months before the World Cup begins. Deadlines have already been pushed back at several airports, and further delays could make it hard for Brazil to handle the expected 600,000 international visitors and the nearly 3 million Brazilians expected to travel during the month-long tournament next year.
Valcke may also face questions about the hikes in hotel prices listed on FIFA’s website.
Brazil’s tourism board has notified the justice ministry after its research showed that rates will be up to 500 percent more expensive during the World Cup in some hotels offered by MATCH Services. The FIFA-appointed company could reportedly be investigated by Brazilian authorities for possibly exercising intermediation fees that are a lot higher than usually exercised in the tourism market and for potential violation of free competition rules.
MATCH denied any wrongdoing on Saturday, saying it “provides a totally transparent price structure” and that it has sales margins “similar” to those of Brazilian operators.