By Stephen Wade, AP
RIO DE JANEIRO — Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s top official in charge of the World Cup, is set to crisscross Brazil again to view stadiums that are behind schedule with the opening less than five months away.
He’ll have company.
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, is also in the country next week meeting with President Dilma Rousseff and organizers of the sputtering Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Valcke and Bach have similar concerns: Both mega-events face delays, there is increased public scrutiny over the billions in public money being spent and, in the case of the World Cup, time is short.
Valcke will be in Sao Paulo on Monday, and visit Cuiaba, Curitiba and Natal. The World Cup opens on June 12 in Sao Paulo, but the stadium there won’t be ready until April. Others also face tight deadlines.
The late finish means a rush to install television equipment, few test games, and little time to physically count seats and make sure they match the tickets.
“The big difficulty is that we don’t have a training period,” Valcke explained in a recent interview on France Bleu radio. “That’s to say we can’t train ourselves. We find ourselves with stadiums — as was the case at the Confederations Cup — that are delivered too close to the kick-off of the first match, and stadiums where we have encountered a certain number of difficulties. We find ourselves with infrastructure that isn’t perfectly in place.”
Valcke has pressed Brazilians for two years to speed up. At one point he told Brazil organizers bluntly: “You have to push yourself, kick your (backside).”
Brazil is spending about US$3.6 billion on 12 new and renovated stadiums, and the cost is rising. The original budget for stadiums was US$1 billion. Government officials at first promised stadiums would be built with only private money. Instead, 80 percent has been public money.
In addition to stadiums, World Cup-related construction will cost at least three times that much. And four of the stadiums — in Brasilia, Natal, Cuiaba and Manaus — are likely to become white elephants with no top teams in those cities.
“This (Brazil) is the Mecca of football,” Valcke said. “Even though we’ve been through, and are going through phases that are a bit complicated and tense between Brazil and us — because not everything is ready — it’s clearly the World Cup that all football lovers dream of. … There will certainly be problems. There will be problems because it’s a country the size of a continent.”
Trouble spots include: Soaring hotel prices, questions about air travel through Brazil’s outdated airports, and the promise of daily demonstrations aimed at the billions being spent in a country with severe social inequality.