BRAZIL 2014: Stadia delays, creaking infrastructure, soaring prices in the run-up to World Cup Finals
RIO DE JANEIRO: JUST six months before 32 teams arrive for the World Cup finals in Brazil and a week before the draw, the giant nation still has work to do to prepare 12 venues worthy of the occasion.
Wednesday's fatal accident at the Sao Paulo Arena, scheduled to host the opening match on June 12 and five other games, have put back ongoing construction at the stadium.
And it is not clear whether the stadium can now make Fifa's Dec 31 deadline -- though the local organising committee insisted last Thursday that despite the delay the stadium will still host World Cup action.
The deaths of two construction workers -- following fatal accidents at two other stadiums previously -- was the last thing Brazil needed, with popular protests already expected at the estimated US$11 billion (RM35 billion) cost of staging the event.
Last June saw more than a million people take to the streets to slam the cost of the stadiums -- largely borne by the taxpayer -- as well as protest at government corruption.
Fresh protests are likely, but what is not clear is how big they will be, whether they will turn violent -- as was the case during and after the Confederations event -- and to what degree they might affect access to the stadiums.
Brazil promised to make a Herculean effort to reform creaking infrastructure -- but has already conceded it will have to rein in some initial plans.
That means, for example, that renovations of airports in three venue cities -- Rio, Belo Horizonte and Recife -- will not be ready before a tournament that will see three million Brazilians and 600,000 foreign fans criss-cross the country.
That has fuelled doubts as to whether the country's airports can cope with demand.
Similar worries persist over accommodation capacity with the Amazonian host city of Cuiaba, which boasts a 43,000-capacity stadium, only possessing 13,000 hotel beds.
A further concern are exorbitant prices at hotels, many hiked fourfold for the World Cup finals, while airline fares have risen by as much as ten times.
The local organising committee and world football body Fifa have insisted throughout that the 12 stadiums, sharing out 64 matches in all, would be ready by Dec 31 at the latest with Fifa insisting "there is no Plan B."
Indeed, 11 are about 90 per cent ready for action -- but the Sao Paulo accident and the resulting delay are now a concern.
Organisers say there is no cause for alarm. But the clock is swiftly running down with a week to go to the draw in Costa do Sauipe in the northeast.
With tens of thousands of fans following the bigger teams from one city to the next, many face having to plan travel carefully in a huge country the size of Western Europe as Brazil looks at adding temporary new air routes.
The Brazilian government is negotiating with airlines to introduce new routes between venues to ensure supply meets demand.
The government has also set up a committee to monitor soaring prices in an attempt to ensure fans are not fleeced.
Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo insists "there will be a party atmosphere, not one of protest," for the event running from June 12 to July 13. AFP