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Brazil players celebrate after a 5-0 victory over Chile during the final soccer match at the International Women’s Football Tournament in Brasilia, Brazil, Dec 22. Brazil won the tournament. (AP)
FIFA sued for ticket irregularities at Cup TAM to overhaul 40% of flights for WCup

SAO PAULO, Dec 23, (Agencies): Brazilian prosecutors want FIFA and local World Cup organizers to pay nearly $2 million in damages for alleged ticket irregularities at a Confederations Cup venue. Prosecutors in the northeastern state of Pernambuco say organizers did not provide the services that fans paid for at the Arena Pernambuco during the warm-up tournament this year, especially in relation to seating location. FIFA’s agent in tickets sales, MATCH Services, has also been included in Friday’s court action. Many fans complained that their seats were not as good as shown when they made the purchases, and that some ticket orders forced people to sit in opposite sides of the stadium. The unhappy fans included some who bought the most expensive tickets for the three matches played at the Arena Pernambuco in June. Prosecutors said they took action after interviewing some of the fans who complained about their tickets, with many saying they thought they would be sitting near the field but ended up sitting high up in the stands. Some allegedly had their views obstructed.

Prosecutors said they hope the lawsuit will help prevent the same problem from happening again during next year’s World Cup, a tournament for which FIFA has already sold nearly 1.2 million tickets. Nearly 3.3 million tickets in total will be sold for football’s showcase event next year. “The action is aimed at guaranteeing that consumers receive exactly what they pay for,” prosecutor Guilherme Lapenda said in a statement. FIFA and MATCH this month had already been fined more than $200,000 each by consumer rights officials because of the problems at the Arena Pernambuco. Fans said they turned to prosecutors because FIFA and MATCH did nothing after hearing their complaints. Messages seeking comment sent to FIFA, MATCH and local World Cup organizers were not immediately returned on Sunday.

For World Cup tickets, FIFA tells fans in advance that they “cannot choose specific seats,” only pick between four tickets categories based on stadium location. It also advises that it cannot guarantee that fans will sit next to each other. Prosecutors said the $2 million should be paid to a local consumers’ rights group and will not go directly to fans, although those who prove they received bad tickets can later seek compensation from FIFA and MATCH. Tickets for the 16-match tournament cost between $60 to $220, although hospitality packages bought through MATCH cost significantly more. Brazil’s main airline TAM has asked the National Civil Aviation Agency for permission to reschedule 40 percent of its traffic during next year’s World Cup in order to focus on host cities.

This will represent “a major change in just a month” but there will be no additional flights during the event, which kicks off June 12, TAM President Claudia Sender told the daily Folha de Sao Paulo. TAM operates 800 daily flights with a fleet of 120 aircraft out of 42 airports across Brazil.  It wants to increase daily flights to the northeastern city of Fortaleza from 28 to 32 and those to Cuiaba, capital of central Mato Grosso state, from five to 11. Fortaleza and Cuiaba are two of the 12 host cities for the first World Cup to be held in Brazil since 1950. Latin America’s economic giant hopes to welcome 600,000 foreign visitors during the tournament, which is also expected to draw three million Brazilians.

There is no real alternative to air travel in this continent-sized country of 200 million people, where airports are often congested and in urgent need of an upgrade. There is also a shortage of domestic routes. Sender said TAM will not gain much financially from the traffic overhaul and will have to invest more during the tournament to recruit and train more staff. “Close to 50 to 60 percent of our air tickets, depending on the periods, are for business trips. During the World Cup, we will have mostly passengers traveling for leisure and who pay less than business passengers,” she noted. In 2014, TAM will invest around $30 million dollars for staff training, 50 percent more than this year, she added.

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