After accidents, WCup organizers defend record
Sao Paulo • Days after the latest death by a World Cup worker, organizers insisted Tuesday they aren't sacrificing safety in a rush to complete stadiums for next year's tournament.
A laborer fell 115 feet Saturday in the jungle city of Manaus at the Arena Amazonia, one of Brazil's stadiums that is behind schedule. That was the second death there in less than a year, and the fifth at a World Cup venue in the past two years.
Ron DelMont, the managing director of FIFA's World Cup Brazil office, and Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said safety isn't being compromised for speed.
"There is never a discussion that says you have to cut any corners to make sure that you deliver the stadium," DelMont said.
DelMont said FIFA has "at no point" suggested loosening its safety requirements and "everything that we ask for is within the legislation and the guidelines of the government."
"I have to say it's a bit frustrating to make that kind of suggestion that the event is much more important than the safety of the workers because it's not only the safety of the workers, it's the safety of the spectators," he said. "So we don't compromise at all."
Fernandes, speaking in the same interview with a small group of reporters, said he's "pretty sure" accident rates on World Cup venues are "well under" those in other sectors of Brazilian construction.
"It's a tragedy for all of us but I would not credit that to any undue pressure," Fernandes said, referring to the death in Manaus. "There are accidents that are involved when you have so many thousands of workers."
He noted that the construction companies at nearly all stadiums are "very experienced" and global. He promised "full punishment under the rule of law" for any firm that violates Brazil's "very strict, rigid, firm, labor protection laws."
Two workers were killed when a crane collapsed on Nov. 27 as it was hoisting a 500-ton piece of roofing at the stadium in Sao Paulo that will host the World Cup opener. Last year, a worker died at the construction site of the stadium in Brasilia. The other death in Manaus happened in March.
The most delayed stadium is expected to be the one in Sao Paulo, where construction is to finish April 15, followed by test matches.
Among other venues, the west-central city of Cuiaba also stands out because so much supporting infrastructure is still being worked on. For now, travelers there land at an airport bustling with construction, take a road half ripped up for promised tramlines and arrive at a stadium where the roof and facades aren't finished. The muddy field was only recently seeded.
"Cuiaba is a construction site," Fernandes said. "But I think from the government perspective that's a very good situation because it won't be a construction site for the World Cup."
On other topics, Fernandes and DelMont said they don't expect the World Cup atmosphere to fall completely flat if Brazil's national team doesn't reach the final on July 13.
Citing brisk ticket sales, Fernandes also said "genuine enthusiasm" in Brazil for the World Cup will help reduce the risk of violent demonstrations like those that shook the Confederations Cup warmup tournament in June.
"There's been a change in public opinion," Fernandes said. "There's much less acceptance or tolerance in public opinion to these types of acts of violence."
As for Brazil's prospects of winning for a sixth time and for the first time at home, the minister noted that the path beyond the group stage for the national team looks "very difficult."
The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup was 1950 when it lost to Uruguay in the final. This time, world champion Spain or 2010 runner-up the Netherlands lurk as likely opponents for Brazil in the second round.
"How will people react if we lose along the way? I mean, they won't react well," Fernandes said.
"But they are also football fans," he said. "Interest will continue in the World Cup if Brazil is eliminated but that ghost (of 1950) will continue to haunt us."
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