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After accidents, WCup organizers defend record

December 17, 2013

SAO PAULO (AP) — Despite the latest death, World Cup organizers in Brazil said Tuesday they aren’t sacrificing worker safety in a rush to get venues ready for next year’s tournament.

A laborer fell 35 meters (115 feet) to his death on Saturday in the jungle city of Manaus at the Arena Amazonia, one of Brazil’s venues that have slipped behind schedule. This 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” that 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 of 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 Sao Paulo, where construction is to finish April 15, followed by matches to test the arena.

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, which has no seats, with red earth turning gooey with the rainy season, and where 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 both 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 warm-up 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 to 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.”

Brazilians are desperate to erase their trauma from the last time Brazil hosted in 1950 and lost its final game to Uruguay. Next year, 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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Follow John Leicester at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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