Just hours before Sao Paulo lost the race for Expo2020 to Dubai, a huge crane crashed at the Itaquerao stadium that will host the opening match, a semi-final and four other games of next year’s FIFA World Cup. As the crane sliced through a canopy, damaged seats and crushed two workers to death on Wednesday, fresh questions were raised about Brazil’s preparedness for the biggest sporting show on the planet.
The accident came amid a scramble to meet the December 31 deadline set by FIFA to deliver all the 12 stadiums where the games would be played.
It was a bad day for the city as its dream of hosting the Expo2020 was shattered just as the mishap at the stadium, which has missed several deadlines, pushed its completion to February 2014. The Itaquerao, 94 per cent finished, was to be handed over to FIFA for inspection soon. But now, the arena has joined six other stadiums which have been struggling to meet the FIFA deadline.
Even as Brazil splurges money on new stadiums and races against time to finish work on “world class” football arenas, the preparation for the World Cup has been plagued by construction delays, accidents, rising costs, and growing public anger over massive spending that triggered huge street protests last year during the Confederations Cup — a dress rehearsal for the World Cup 2014.
Though Brazil’s spectacular 3-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup final led to easing of tensions, the latest mishap has again gripped the country in anxiety as the accident happened just a week before FIFA’s meeting in Salvador to decide the groups for the World Cup finals. Now, the FIFA delegates are also likely to discuss worker safety and the delays at their December 4-6 meeting in the Brazilian city.
Brazil, considered the “Home of Football”, has really spent money to make the World Cup “the best ever” to boost its global profile. But social activists have raised questions about why the country was spending $15 billion on the World Cup, and a like amount for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Itaquerão stadium was planned at the cost of $152 million but that shot up to over $350 million after local authorities decided to hold the prestigious opening match there. Though the country’s image has taken a beating with the recent mishap, Brazilian officials sound confident of being ready for the big show. “Even if the construction is delayed by three months, we don’t think the stadium will end up out of the World Cup,” said Ricardo Trade, executive director of the local organising committee.
The worker’s union has demanded a 30-day probe into the incident and the government has already opened an investigation, but the stadium is not likely to be removed from the World Cup roster. “Accidents occur. I very much deplore the deaths, but I am absolutely convinced that the Cup will open in Sao Paulo on June 12,” said Jose Maria Marin, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) on Friday.
The accident in Sao Paulo was not the first accident on Brazil’s World Cup sites. Workers have now been killed at three stadiums. Only six of the 12 stadiums hosting the tournament have been completed. In several cities, public transportation projects have been cancelled.
But FIFA has downplayed concerns over the tournament. “We are working hard and we are working with what we have now in Brazil to make sure that the World Cup will be a great tournament and it will be a great tournament,” FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said in London on Friday.