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Protests and building delays ‘threaten’ World Cup: Pele Brazil’s airports will pass test: Fitch

MEXICO CITY, May 20, (Agencies): Protests in Brazil and delays in building stadiums are putting the World Cup next month at risk and prompting tourists to stay away, soccer great Pele said on Monday. Brazil’s tournament organizers have faced headwinds since the country was tapped to host the World Cup in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of Brazilian protesters took to the streets during the Confederations Cup last year over the high cost of the sporting extravaganza, as well as against taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services. Pele, a triple World Cup winner and special advisor of the World Cup organising committee, was in Mexico City giving a news conference when he was asked if the protests in Brazil could jeopardize the tournament.

“Yes, because I know that 25 percent of foreigners have already cancelled their trip to the country,” he said. Many fear protests will continue during the tournament from June 12 to July 13, after demonstrators angered by the cost of the event burned tyres last week near the $450 million Sao Paulo Corinthians Arena, the stadium where the tournament will open. “That’s one of the problems I pointed out six years ago. We knew that Brazil won the right to have the World Cup, and now one month before the Cup, stadiums there are not yet finished and have many problems, and that’s a shame,” Pele said. The timing for the protests was not helping, he added.

“People should have demonstrated when Brazil was chosen to organise the World Cup, and not now that the World Cup is very soon,” the 73-year-old said. “No one was thinking that Brazil has three important events — the Confederations Cup, World Cup, and Olympics — to show off the country, to bring foreign exchange and tourism.” Brazil’s airports will probably manage to handle the massive traffic to the 12 World Cup host cities even though some upgrades are behind schedule, ratings agency Fitch said Monday. The country’s airports are expecting to receive 3.7 million passengers, including 600,000 foreigners, during the June 12 to July 13 tournament.

“As Brazil’s railway network is limited, airport infrastructure will be critical,” said Fitch. Since 2003, passenger traffic has leapt from 33 million to 111 million a year, according to Brazilian figures, an increase that has strained the aging airport infrastructure and caused chronic delays. Officials say 5.6 billion reais ($2.5 billion, 1.9 billion euros) has been spent upgrading the airports — mainly to get passenger terminals, airplane ramps and runways ready for the World Cup rush. Of the 10 host city airports run by aviation authority Infraero, the ones most at risk of missing the World Cup deadline are Cuiaba, which is hosting four matches, and Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte, which are each hosting six, said Fitch.

“The Cuiaba airport presents the most challenging situation, with only 75 percent of scheduled works completed, while Fortaleza will operate through temporary structures,” it said. Privately run airports in capital Brasilia and economic hub Sao Paulo are also still under construction, at a total investment of $1.8 billion. President Dilma Rousseff, who is up for reelection in October, repeated Monday that the upgraded airports would be a “legacy” of the World Cup, whose $11-billion price tag has sparked protests in a country with critical needs in education, health care and transport. She said the airports “are ready for the World Cup” in her weekly “Coffee with the President” radio program.

In Rio, the main airport’s capacity has been increased by 80 percent, she said, adding more upgrades would be undertaken between the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in the city. She said the government was also investing $7.3 billion reais on expanding 270 airports in the interior of the massive South American country. Rousseff will travel to Sao Paulo Tuesday for the inauguration of the main airport’s new terminal, which will have a capacity of 12 million passengers a year. Former Brazil great Zico has joined the chorus of people criticising the organisers of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, lamenting a missed opportunity to showcase the country amid massive protests against the cost of the event.

Many Brazilians are livid at the amount of public money being spent on stadia in a nation that in many areas sorely lacks basic public services for its citizens. People are also angry at high taxes and corruption among authorities. “Brazil hasn’t managed to take advantage of this opportunity. There’s been no planning and no project,” the former Udinese playmaker told the Corriere Dello Sport. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets during the Confederations Cup last year over the high cost of the sporting extravaganza, as well as against taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services.

Since then the protests have continued, and last week demonstrators angered by the cost of the event burned tyres near the $450 million Sao Paulo Corinthians Arena, which will host Brazil’s opening Group A match against Croatia on June 12. “Let’s hope that there aren’t any problems, but when you finish the stadiums only a few days before the event it’s inevitable that there are worries,” said Zico, who starred in the flamboyant Brazil side that thrilled during the 1982 World Cup before being defeated by Italy in the second round.

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