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Race against time

Fernando Caulyt / ngNovember 28, 2013

Six months before the football World Cup kicks off, only six of the 12 stadiums are finished. After the deadly accident in Sao Paulo, Brazil is facing tough questions about its preparations for the big event.

View of damage at the Arena de Sao Paulo (Photo: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

It is a race against time. After the tragic accident in the Itaquero World Cup stadium in Sao Paulo on Wednesday (27.11.2013) there are more and more doubts whether all the stadiums can be finished in time for kick-off on June 12, 2014.

Not only is construction a lot more expensive than previously thought, it is also painfully slow. "We wasted almost three years talking about what cities the stadiums should be built in," Agostinho Guerriro, chairman of the regional association of engineers in Rio de Janeiro (CREA) told DW. "Being pressed for time causes lots of problems, and that includes accidents," he said.

Two Brazilian builders died in Wednesday's accident in Sao Paulo. It happened when a crane lifting a 500-ton metal construction collapsed, destroying part of the roof and the stands.

Stadium safety

From December 4 to December 6, football's world governing body FIFA has scheduled a meeting in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia. There, the groups for the World Cup finals will be announced, but delegates will also discuss worker safety and the delays in getting the stadiums ready.

Model of Arena de Sao Paulo (Photo: CDC arquitetos)
A match is underway in front of a sold-out crowd - in this model, at leastImage: CDC arquitetos

The accident in Sao Paulo was not the first tragic incident on Brazil's World Cup building sites. In March, a worker died in the Arena Amazonia in Manaus after falling from a height of five meters. In the Mane Garrincha stadium in the capital Brasilia, another worker fell to his death in June 2012.

"When it comes to worker safety, there is a certain degree of flexibility that's not advisable," Guerreiro told DW. "What would be advisable would be if there were security engineers on every site, in addition to the construction engineers, but that's not always the case" he added.

The Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo, which was 94 percent finished, was meant to be handed over to FIFA for inspection at the end of the year. But now, the stadiums joins the long list of problem sites in other major cities like Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Natal, Manaus and Cuiaba.

"The situation in Itaquerao is complicated," Jose Roberto Bernasconi, chairman of the association of architects and engineers in the state of Sao Paulo (Sinaenco/SP) says. "We can't gauge the extent of the damage yet, which is why we don't know how long it's going to take to rebuild it."

Aerial view of the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Hill and the Mario Filho (Maracana) stadium (Photo: VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Brazil will rely on the 64-year-old Maracana Stadium to host the World Cup finalImage: VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

Curitiba woes

Of the 12 planned stadiums, only six have been completed - among them the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro as well as the stadiums in Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Salvador, Recife and Brasilia.

It is unlikely that the January 5 deadline, set by FIFA for the the stadiums to be inspected, can be kept for all the stadiums.

The stadium in the southern city of Curitiba is the organizers' biggest worry. It's only 75 percent finished, according to FIFA. The construction company says it's 83 percent finished. Whichever number is correct, come January 26, organizers will have to improvise when FIFA comes knocking on the door.

The building of the stadiums has been problematic and contentious from the start. Heavy rainfall, strikes and damage caused by fires have repeatedly interrupted building work. Wrangling over legal issues and problems with loans being paid out by Brazil's development bank, BNDES, added to the delays.

Time is money

Already, the building of the stadiums has put an enormous burden on taxpayers. According to the sports ministry, the costs have shot up to 2.6 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars), up from the one billion euros set aside in 2007.

To plug part of that financial hole, organizers reduced investment in infrastructure by 250 million euros to just 2.2 billion euros.

A demonstrator displays a banner for better education (Photo: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters lamented Brazil's inability to build schools to the same standards as those FIFA demanded for its stadiumsImage: Y.Chiba/AFP/GettyImages

During the Confederation Cup in June, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest the exorbitant sums spent on the Soccer World Cup. They demanded new schools and hospitals done to "FIFA standards" instead of costly football stadiums. They argued that the investments do not benefit ordinary Brazilians so much as the construction firms.

But the protests are likely to fall on deaf ears - work is going on around the clock to get the stadiums done until kick-off on June 12, 2014. More people are going to be hired, according to Guerreiro. "Playing catch-up costs a lot of money," he says, adding that Brazil will probably just about manage to keep the deadlines. "But it won't happen without extra funds from the government."