Updated 07:54 AM EDT, Sat, Apr 10, 2021

2014 World Cup: FIFA Threatens to Pull Matches From Brazilian City Due to Lack of Preparation

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While the completion of the Arena das Dunas in the northeastern Brazilian city of Natal should be a cause for celebration with the 2014 World Cup right around the corner, FIFA officials remain concerned as other venues appear nowhere ready to host matches.

Five of the 12 venues promised by Brazilian officials in their bid to host the 2014 World Cup are severely behind schedule, with FIFA threatening to strip the city of Curitiba of its World Cup host duties due to the severe lag in the reconstruction of Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.

Arena da Baixada, home to Atletico Paranaense of the Campeonato Brasileiro, was being renovated, with new seats being added to raise the capacity to 40,000. Completion of the venue is estimated to be 90 percent by Brazilian officials, but very little progress has occured since the venue was listed as 80 percent completed back in November of last year.

"The stadium is very delayed and well outside the delivery schedule to ensure best use by FIFA and the FIFA World Cup," said FIFA's secretary general Jerome Valcke to reporters.

FIFA has now given the city of Curitiba until February 18 to show improvements on the stadium or risk losing the World Cup.

"We are not expecting the stadium to be ready on February 18," said Valcke. "What we are expecting is to see a progress and to understand where we are going and that is what is being put in place today."

Renovation for Arena da Baixada began in 2011 and was planned to be completed in 23 months. Heavy rains, labor strikes, a court-mandated halt to construction last year due to safety issues, and financial problems have hampered construction. Atletico Paranaense, who is responsible for stadium maintenance, has also been in a dispute with Brazilian bank BNDES, who delayed loan payments until after the soccer club proved that the previous $55 million loan package was properly used for World Cup preparation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Brazilian officials have taken on a greater role, promising to speed up construction on Arena da Baixada, adding an extra $16.5 million from the Parana government's development fund to be used to hire more builders and possibly add a third eight-hour shift of workers meet FIFA's deadline.

"We can't believe in the worst. On the contrary, I believe that the governor, the mayor and the entrepreneurs responsible for the stadium in Curitiba will have it ready in time," said Brazilian Pres. Dilma Rousseff. "I have to bet in favor of that, not against."

But such a move would just add to the $14 billion the Brazilian government has already spent in preparing for the World Cup, which has triggered mass protests throughout the soccer-mad nation that has won five World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002).

FIFA President Sepp Blatter expects anger to intensify as the quadrennial soccer tournament kicks off, expressing concern over the mass protests held throughout last year's Confederation Cup, with crowds swelling up to as many as a million people in a single day. Brazilians took to the streets causing headaches for organizers during last June's Confederation Cup, angry that tax money has been spent on the World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games instead of schools, hospitals, infrastructure, public services, and fighting political corruption.

With stadium construction costs for the World Cup having risen three times over the proposed budget, organizers have failed miserably in keeping their promise to use private sector funds to pay for any extra costs that hosting the event would incur.

"I am an optimist not a pessimist. So I am not worried. But we do know there will be again be manifestations, protests," said Blatter to the 24 Heures in December. "Those during the Confederations Cup, in this same country, were generated out of the social networks. There was no specific goal but during the World Cup the protests will perhaps be more concrete, more organised. But I also believe the football will be safe, I do not believe that Brazilians will attack the football directly. For them, it's a religion."

While FIFA has been adamant that there is no "Plan B" if Brazil fails to meet their obligations, soccer's governing body has to prepare contingencies should Arena da Baixada not be completed in time. Four games, defending World Cup champions Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, Nigeria vs. Iran, and Algeria vs. Russia, are scheduled to be played in Curitiba with tickets for the unfinished venue already sold out. FIFA officials have yet to announce a back-up plan to the athletes or fans should Arena da Baixada fail to meet FIFA's standards.

"It's not so easy to take out a city from the World Cup today," said Valcke. "If you don't have a stadium, you can't have four games taking place here. That's why there's this emergency situation."

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