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Brazil struggles with its World Cup preparations FIFA downplays partial test event in Sao Paulo

SAO PAULO, June 1, (AP): Although expectations are high for Brazil’s football team at the World Cup, it’s already clear the country didn’t do a very good job preparing for the tournament. With two weeks left before the opener, there are still concerns about the country’s readiness. Doubts remain about whether some stadiums will be fully ready, and it’s already known that not all promised infrastructure work will be completed. Organizers will also have to worry about the widespread street protests that are expected during the tournament with demonstrators already unhappy about corruption, poor public services and the billions of dollars being spent to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Even though Brazil was awarded the World Cup in 2007, local organizers are scrambling to complete all the necessary work. FIFA acknowledged recently that it was “a race” to make sure the country delivers everything it promised. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said there were delays because “there was no work for years,” but he was confident “Brazil will be a well-done World Cup.”

“We’re very close now,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said. “Soon we’re going to hand the tournament over to the players and the 32 teams. There is very little left to worry about. We just need to make sure the teams arrive safely and get to their training centers so they can begin preparing for the tournament.” Construction work at stadiums was still underway, however, including at the one hosting the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo. All six venues that were expected to be ready by the end of last year missed FIFA’s deadline. The other six had already been used during the Confederations Cup, but four of those also weren’t ready when expected. One of the host cities, Curitiba, was nearly excluded from the competition because of the delays at its stadium. Because the venues took so long to be ready, FIFA is now racing to install the temporary structures that are crucial for the media, sponsors and technical teams. Some of the host cities didn’t want to pay for them even though they signed contracts saying they would.

The northeastern city of Recife didn’t want to pay for its fanfest, which allows those without tickets to watch matches in public areas for free, prompting FIFA to say it could sue the city for breach of contract. It remains unclear if the event will happen. “All is written, all is signed and all the responsibilities or duties for each party are very well known,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said. In related story, FIFA and Brazilian organizers are downplaying the fact that the final test event at the stadium hosting the World Cup opener won’t be held with a capacity crowd. Only about 40,000 people will be allowed at the Itaquerao for a Brazilian league match on Sunday, meaning that organizers will not be able to fully test the stadium before the inaugural match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12. Valcke last week said it was “vital” to test the Itaquerao “under full match conditions, including the temporary seats.” But only some of the 20,000 temporary seats installed for the opener will be used because of safety concerns raised by local authorities.

FIFA and the local World Cup organizing committee said that ideally they would have preferred to have a full crowd of nearly 70,000 people on Sunday, but noted that the test event will still be “extremely important” to help making sure the stadium will be ready for the opener. The match between Corinthians and Botafogo will mark the final test event at the Itaquerao, which has been among the most problematic venues ahead of the World Cup. “Ideally, FIFA and the local organizing committee would have preferred to operate this event as a full capacity match,” they said in a statement. “However, the match will still be extremely important to train and integrate the local (teams of organizers).”

FIFA usually wants three test events in each venue before a tournament such as the World Cup, but it had to make exceptions in Brazil because of the chronic delays in most of the stadiums. Football’s governing body says test events are crucial so officials can monitor all operational areas that will be used during World Cup matches, including the temporary facilities needed for the media, communications and technical teams. Organizers also monitor the movement of fans outside and inside the venues, so having a full crowd is key for a proper test. “Not having a final test the way it should, with a capacity crowd, represents a risk both in terms of safety and comfort — things that a stadium like the Itaquerao must have,” said Adriano Pires, an infrastructure analyst in Brazil. “Are the electrical installations adequate? Are the bathrooms operating normally? And a host of other questions must be answered and for this, full test events are necessary,” he said.

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