Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Overdue: Brazil chooses venue for World Cup opener

By Andrew Downie in São Paulo
First, the good news: after years of indecision, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has finally confirmed that the city of São Paulo will host the opening game of the 2014 World Cup. In a brand new stadium owned by Corinthians.

Now the bad news. The stadium isn’t built yet - and is unlikely to be ready by Fifa’s 2012 deadline.

Corinthians’ decision to build a new stadium came just days before it celebrated its 100th anniversary and was a coup for the club’s president Andrés Sanchez. Corinthians is the only one of São Paulo’s big four clubs not to own its own ground - a major sore point.

The stadium was chosen by the CBF and approved by Fifa ahead of São Paulo FC’s 75,000-seater Morumbi stadium, notwithstanding the fact that the head of the CBF, Ricardo Texeira, hadn’t even seen a design model of it.

That’s the way things are done at the CBF, but it also represents a massive gamble by Texeira, who, perhaps not coincidentally, is an ally of Sanchez and an enemy of São Paulo FC’s president.

One major question mark concerns the price. The new stadium is to be built by Odebrecht, one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, and is slated to cost 350m reais ($199m), a little more than half of what São Paulo would have to spend to reform its existing ground.

Another issue is seating. The Corinthians stadium is designed to hold 48,000 spectators. Yet Fifa guidelines state that the stadium that hosts the opening match must seat 65,000. Sanchez said Corinthians’ stadium can be upgraded to meet that demand but that the club won’t finance the increase, which could cost up to 180m reais ($102m). The city and state authorities have said they won’t pay the difference either.

But perhaps the biggest question is time. Infrastructure experts say it takes 30 months to build a stadium from scratch. More time is needed beforehand to complete environmental impact reports, consult residents and deal with the almost inevitable legal challenges.

That means that even if building began tomorrow, the stadium wouldn’t be completed by the end of 2012, Fifa’s deadline, and there are no guarantees it will be better than what exists already.

So as with almost all of the 2014 World Cup’s organisation, there are still more questions than answers.

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