Updated: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 03:32 | By Agence France-Presse

Curitiba's honour saved as it earns reprieve from FIFA

Curitiba won a last-minute reprieve from FIFA on Tuesday, retaining its status as a World Cup finals venue despite construction work delays, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said.


Curitiba's honour saved as it earns reprieve from FIFA

General view of the Arena da Baixada stadium under construction in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil, on December 14, 2013 - by Christophe Simon

FIFA judged that work on the stadium, which will host four games in the finals that start in Brazil in June have made enough progress to warrant being retained.

It had previously missed a series of deadlines -- FIFA dropped an initial deadline of December 31 for all 12 venues after six failed to meet the date.

A double fatality at Sao Paulo, which will stage the opening game, put that venue's pre-event tests back until mid-April.

In addition, there have been three construction deaths at Manaus in the Amazon region and one at Brasilia.

But it has been the Curitiba delays which have posed FIFA a severe headache to the extent Valcke threatened to scrap it from the list altogether. 

On Tuesday, he confirmed the stadium had done enough to stay on board, heading off a potential legal minefield of challenges from the city, which had faced claims from hotels losing weeks of fan business.

"Yes, Curitiba will remain as one of the 12 host cities," said Valcke, who confirmed news to that effect posted on his website just minutes before he spoke.  

"That shows I'm not really responsible for the Twitter account," he joked.

FIFA assessor Charles Botta had earlier completed the world body's latest appraisal of the Arena da Baixada site which has been beset by delays that had increasingly caused concern after costs rose almost threefold from an initial $60 million.

The city was one of six which saw action when the continent-sized nation first hosted the tournament back in 1950.

Just prior to Valcke's announcement, Curitiba prefect Gustavo Fruet had already let slip on Twitter that the venue would not be dropped.

“Total confidence! The meeting with the FIFA team has finished and it is retaining the stadium," Fruet tweeted.

If the axe had fallen on Curitiba, it would have been a humiliating blow to the football-mad nation, which has also been trumpeting its economic progress over the past few years.

Work on Curitiba has been even slower than on the other 11 venues, which two months ago won an extended deadline from FIFA to finish the work.

Many Brazilians believe the cost of hosting the tournament has come at the expense of public services and there have been protests which came to a head at last year's World Cup finals dress rehearsal the Confederations Cup.

There are fears that those were just a foretaste of what is to come in June when the finals take place.

Curitiba residents are angry at what they say is a lack of transparency on spending.

The stadium was due initially to cost 130 million Reais ($65 million).

The stadium's owners Atletico Paranaense initially hoped to fund the venue privately themselves but costs have mushroomed to 320 million reais, forcing local authorities to step in and organise bank loans worth some $30 million.

Local protesters called a march for Tuesday afternoon to slam the rising costs and use of public funds.

Some protesters have marched under the slogan 'There Will Be No Cup' -- and in Curitiba that wish came close to being granted.

Deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes insisted that the stadium was "beautiful" and that lessons had been learned.

But he insisted that Brazil would as a whole benefit from the investments being made in all 12 host cities.   

FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently chided Brazil for not starting preparations quickly enough and said it was further behind than any other host in his four decades with football's world body.

The decision over Curitiba has overshadowed the arrival of the coaches of the 32 qualifying nations in the southern city of Florianapolis for a pre-World Cup seminar which will allow them to discuss logistics and assess facilities.

Tuesday's decision vindicated Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's insistence when she met Blatter in Zurich last month that Curitiba would make it.

The highest profile match at the stadium, now 91 percent complete, according to Atletico Paranaense, will be Australia versus reigning champions Spain on June 23.

After his January visit, Valcke had said bluntly: "We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point." 

But local organzizers redoubled their efforts and have now been rewarded.

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