LONDON – Soccer’s governing body warned that it would move World Cup matches should Brazilian cities fail to complete construction projects in time for next year’s event.
FIFA’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, is examining some of the venues being used for the Confederations Cup, an eight-team competition seen as a warm-up for the World Cup, sport’s most-watched event. He said the stadium in São Paulo, which will host the opening match, will be ready, after Tuesday saying delays could mean Brazil’s commercial hub would miss out.
“We can’t reduce any requirement: On any competition that would be fine except at the World Cup,” Valcke told reporters after inspecting the Maracana Stadium, the Rio de Janeiro venue that will host both the finals of the World Cup and the Confederations Cup. “The World Cup is 99 percent of the FIFA system. The World Cup has to be perfect. The World Cup is the diamond of FIFA.”
FIFA, based in Zurich, makes almost all of its $1.2 billion in annual income from the quadrennial tournament through sales of television rights and sponsorship agreements with companies including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa.
Several cities have struggled to meet deadlines imposed by FIFA. Valcke, who was joined on Wednesday’s visit by the country’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo and Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, was asked several times about the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, which beat competition from national capital Brasilia and Belo Horizonte to stage the World Cup’s first game.
Valcke Wednesday said the São Paulo site would be ready by December, even though construction company Odebrecht said installing the temporary seating needed to increase the 48,000- seat facility to the required 70,000 for the World Cup would take until at least February. The World Cup opens June 12, 2014.
Valcke, who oversees the World Cup for FIFA, said his organization would meet with politicians and other stakeholders, including Odebrecht, in the next few days to ensure the stadium is ready.
“I can tell you this stadium will be delivered in December 2013,” Valcke said.
FIFA is also facing delays with World Cup stadiums in Natal, Coritbia and Cuiaba. Valcke described the Maracana as a “Mecca” of soccer and congratulated workers on their efforts to get it ready before the Confederations Cup. Construction missed several deadlines and the facility will only have one match at capacity — a June 2 exhibition between Brazil and England — before the June 15 start of the tournament.
The Maracana was built for the 1950 World Cup, the only other time Brazil hosted the tournament. Its three-year refurbishment at a cost of more than $500 million has faced criticism over delays in construction, costs and plans to privatize the venue.
“I know that the refurbishing of Maracana to a certain extent was faced with controversy compared to the first construction of the stadium,” Sports Minister Rebelo said. “I think the visit to Maracana in this last phase after refurbishing the stadium gives us the conviction that Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in fact do have the stadium back with a stage that will be at the right standard for the final match of the World Cup.”
FIFA faced similar delays and problems with construction when South Africa in 2010 became the first African country to stage the tournament. Valcke reminded reporters that then, unlike now, one of the Confederations Cup venues, Port Elizabeth, had to be withdrawn over concerns it wouldn’t be ready.
“It created a lot of noise and tension between the city and us,” he said. “But this different here, we have been active, we have been helping, often criticizing and pushing. I have to recognize the marvelous job which has been done by the different cities in order to deliver the stadiums beyond deadline but definitely before the Confederations Cup.”
© 2013, Bloomberg News