As it happened, Sao Paulo had just such an arena: Cicero Pompeu de
Toledo Stadium, known as "Morumbi," standing amid a sea of
orange-roofed mansions on the western side of the city.
But after nearly three years of negotiations and delays, World Cup
organizers instead opted to build a brand-new stadium on the poorer
eastern edge of town — a decision that involved a popular former
president, one of Brazil's most bitter soccer rivalries, and no
small degree of controversy.
Scrutiny of that decision has intensified following a fatal accident
on November 27 at the building site of the new stadium, called Arena
Corinthians. A crane collapsed while lifting a 420-tonne piece of
roof into place, crushing a portion of the facility's exterior and
killing two workers on the ground below.
The accident has pushed back the stadium's estimated completion date
from December to April, according to FIFA, the governing body of
world soccer. That is perilously close to the June 12 date for the
World Cup's opening match, between Brazil and Croatia, which Arena
Corinthians is due to host.
Officials are still probing the causes of the crane collapse, and
there is no evidence that the company building the stadium,
Odebrecht SA, committed any wrongdoing. Odebrecht said in a
statement that construction "has followed rigorous planning and
respected the appropriate speed."
The stadium's supporters say the 68,000-seat facility will help
support economic development in a depressed area of mostly one-story
houses some 12 miles east of downtown.
"This area has been ignored for years, but this stadium will be a
source of pride and much more," Andres Sanchez, a former president
of the Corinthians soccer club, said in an interview earlier this
year. Corinthians will own the arena when it is completed.
To some critics, the recent accident is particularly galling because
they say the stadium should never have been built in the first
place. They say its troubled history is emblematic of the poor
planning, murky negotiations and wasteful spending that have become
big political issues here as the Cup draws closer.
Public outrage over the roughly $3.5 billion being spent to build or
renovate Brazil's 12 World Cup stadiums — including nearly $500
million at Arena Corinthians alone — was a major reason why more
than a million Brazilians took to the streets in anti-government
protests in June.
President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating plummeted during the
demonstrations, though it has partly recovered as she prepares to
run for reelection next October. Many political analysts and other
Brazilians believe that protests will erupt again next year when the
World Cup starts, especially if preparations are plagued by further
tragedy and mismanagement.
"I think the more people find out about (Arena Corinthians), the
angrier they'll get," said Paulo Resende, a logistics expert at
Fundação Dom Cabral, a leading business school.
RENOVATIONS WERE NEEDED
There was no hint of such a controversy back in 2007 when FIFA
granted Brazil — the only country to win the World Cup five times — the right to host the tournament in 2014.
Indeed, Morumbi was a near-consensus choice to host games in Sao
Paulo. The stadium was built in the 1950s, but it underwent
extensive renovations in the 1990s and remains the city's venue of
choice for big soccer games and concerts, including Madonna and Lady
Gaga last year.
The government also planned to finish a new subway link to Morumbi
in time for the World Cup.
Morumbi lacked certain standards that FIFA demands for the Cup, such
as extra parking and better visibility for fans. Hosting the opening
match also brings special needs, such as a media center and space to
accommodate visiting heads of state.
So the soccer team that owns the stadium, Sao Paulo Futebol Clube
(SPFC), offered several plans for renovations, costing between $130
million and $330 million depending on their scope.
Talks over renovations continued until June 2010, when FIFA declared
that Morumbi would be "excluded" from the Cup.
The exact reasons are hotly disputed to this day.
FIFA said SPFC repeatedly failed to present sufficient financial
guarantees for the renovations, and that it was time to start
But some SPFC officials blamed their long-running feud with Ricardo
Teixeira, the powerful head of Brazil's soccer federation and the
country's point man for World Cup preparations. They accused
Teixeira of speaking against their proposals in talks with FIFA
because of his recent dispute with the team over television rights,
among other conflicts.
Also, they said, Teixeira wanted to use the World Cup as leverage to
secure financial and political support to build a stadium for SPFC's
crosstown rival — Corinthians — and thus gain new allies at a time
when his leadership was being challenged because of corruption
"The Cup didn't come to Morumbi because of politics," Emerson Leão,
then SPFC's coach, said in a 2011 TV interview. "It was all a big
lie that was silently accepted."
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THE DECISION-MAKERS GO TO GROUND
Several key figures in the decision not to use Morumbi now
refuse to discuss it. Teixeira resigned in March 2012 following
a new wave of corruption accusations, left Brazil to live in
Miami, and "isn't talking about anything" with the media, his
former spokesman said.
Orlando Silva, the sports minister at the time, also resigned
following a corruption scandal in 2011. He did not respond to
repeated emailed requests to discuss Morumbi.
Silva's replacement, Aldo Rebelo, said in an interview last
month that he too had struggled to figure out why Morumbi wasn't
chosen — but that getting the full story proved "difficult."
Still, he said he came to the conclusion that building Arena
Corinthians "was the only possible alternative" because time was
running out to provide a venue and, without it, Sao Paulo could
have lost the right to host any World Cup games at all.
Delia Fischer, a FIFA spokeswoman, reiterated that the decision
not to use Morumbi resulted from the lack of "financial
guarantees for refurbishment."
What's undisputed is that the Corinthians club was thrilled by
the possibility of having a new stadium and had plenty of
political support to get a deal done.
Despite having one of the country's biggest fan bases,
Corinthians is famous within Brazil for never having owned its
own stadium, playing in rented facilities instead.
Meanwhile, the club's best-known fan is Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, who in 2010 was in his final year as president of Brazil
with an approval rating upward of 80 percent.
Thanks in part to Lula's backing, a plan came together to build
Arena Corinthians, using tax incentives and some $200 million in
public financing. Speaking during a tour of Brazil's World Cup
stadiums earlier this year, Lula said he believed "the best of
all, I think, will be Corinthians."
WORRIES OVER THE TIMETABLE
Even after the decision to build the stadium was finalized, it
has continued to generate headaches for FIFA and for Brazilian
officials — and anger among the greater public.
Arena Corinthians has far exceeded its original budget of 650
million reais ($281 million). It is now expected to cost 1
billion reais or more — about four times as much as the cheapest
proposed renovations at Morumbi.
Resende, the logistics expert, questioned not only the stadium's
high costs but also its "dangerous isolation" far from the
city's wealthier areas. He said recent studies have shown that
new sports arenas in the United States and elsewhere are of
questionable economic value to surrounding communities.
"I find (the stadium) to be a series of terrible decisions,"
Because of the years spent haggling, construction on Arena
Corinthians didn't start until May 2011 — a full year later than
most other World Cup stadiums. As a result, the facility has
been under unusual time pressure from its inception.
As recently as May, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke
publicly warned that Arena Corinthians could lose the right to
host World Cup games because, he said, construction might not be
finished on time.
"They're going to have to speed things up. That isn't a threat,"
Valcke said at a news conference in Brasilia, according to local
When the construction accident occurred on November 27, some
union leaders representing workers at the site suggested that
the stadium's accelerated timetable may have been a factor.
"That kind of pressure leads to mistakes," said Antonio Ramalho,
head of one of Sao Paulo's biggest civil construction unions.
"Everyone knows that rushing is the enemy of safety."
The operator of the crane that collapsed had been working 18
days straight with no time off, Luiz Antonio Medeiros, a labor
ministry official, told reporters on Tuesday.
The company building the stadium, Odebrecht, denied that
laborers had excessively long hours. The company also said 32
workers, among the 1,350 or so working on site at the time of
the accident, were dedicated to safety, and that personnel
received daily safety training.
A final report on the accident's cause is not expected until
later this month.
($1 = 2.30 reais)
(Editing by Todd Benson and Frank McGurty)
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