SAO PAULO, Brazil, March 6 – A FIFA team was due in Brazil Tuesday to monitor progress in building stadiums and infrastructure projects for the 2014 World Cup amid a blazing row triggered by criticism of the lagging preparations.
Some 40 experts from football’s world governing body and Brazil’s Local Organizing Committee were to inspect work on arenas in six of 12 cities that will stage World Cup games: Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Cuiaba, Manaus and Natal.
They will look at the operational planning for the stadiums, including “transportation, security and orientations of the public,” according to LOC’s stadium operations manager Tiago Paes.
Their weeklong visit comes amid a sharp exchange of words between FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and Brazilian government officials.
It all began Friday when Valcke suggested that the Brazilian organizers of the 2014 World Cup needed a “kick up the backside.”
“I don’t understand why things are not moving. The stadiums are not on schedule any more and why are a lot of things late?” he asked.
“I am sorry to say but things are not working in Brazil,” he added. “You have to push yourself, kick your arse and just deliver this World Cup and that is what we will do.”
Valcke also suggested the priority in Brazil was to win the tournament rather than organise a good World Cup.
Brazil reacted with outrage, with Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo announcing Saturday that his country would boycott Valcke as a FIFA spokesman.
Rebelo was set to send a letter to FIFA President Joseph Blatter to ask for a new negotiator, a spokesman told AFP.
On Monday, Marco Aurelio Garcia, a top adviser to President Dilma Rousseff, blasted Valcke as a shameless “loudmouth” and reiterated that he would not longer be acceptable as an interlocutor between FIFA and Brazil.
Despite Brazil’s hostile reactions, Valcke said he planned to go ahead with a March 12 return trip to the country to supervise preparations for the 2013 Confederations Cup and the World Cup a year later.
The Confederations Cup, which will serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, is scheduled to be held from June 15 to 30, 2013, with games scheduled in Rio, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza.
Two other cities, Recife and Salvador, are still awaiting final approval from FIFA and Brazil’s LOC depending on progress in the preparations.
Held every four years, the Confederations Cup brings together the title winners from each of the world’s six confederations, in addition to reigning world champions Spain and hosts Brazil.
FIFA has for months expressed varying degrees of concern over the extent to which preparations — renovation or construction of stadiums as well as infrastructure projects — are on track for the first World Cup in Brazil since 1950.
“Certainly, Brazil will have the 12 stadiums ready for the World Cup (some of them probably on the eve of the opening of the tournament). But most of the other infrastructure projects are lagging,” Jose Roberto Bernasconi, president of Sao Paulo’s Architecture and Engineering Union, has said.
He identified two sectors running behind schedule: modernization of overcrowded airports and extension of urban mass transit systems.
FIFA is also concerned about delays in securing congressional approval of a bill on the World Cup.
One key issue is the current ban on beer sales in Brazilian stadiums.
Sales of alcoholic beverages in sports arenas have been banned in Brazil since 2003, but a bill now making its way through Congress would create an exception, allowing beer to be sold in plastic cups at World Cup matches.
FIFA has an agreement with its sponsor, the US-based Anheuser-Busch brand Budweiser, and prohibiting beer sales would cut into the football organization’s revenues from the games.
The bill is expected to be approved by a congressional panel Tuesday and later by a plenary session of both houses of Congress.
“There are endless discussions over the bill on the World Cup. The text should have been approved in 2007 and we are in 2012,” Valcke complained Friday.