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Just six months to go until Brazil hosts soccer's biggest tournament, the World Cup, and for Brazil, it is crunch time. Just yesterday, soccer's governing body, FIFA, issued a stark warning. One of the host cities is now in jeopardy of being dropped because its stadium is hugely delayed. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Sao Paulo on Brazil's mad scramble to get everything done on time.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: There's a joke going around here. Two men sit at a bar discussing the World Cup. One asks the other, who do you think Brazil's biggest enemy will be during the tournament? The other replies, you mean the stadiums or the airports? But it's no laughing matter. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said after visiting the stadium in Curitiba yesterday, we cannot organize a match without a stadium. This has reached a critical point.
The city has missed every deadline FIFA has set so far. Six out of the 12 stadiums are delayed in total, and this after Brazil has spent billion of dollars in public money on the venues. But as the joke implies, it's not only the stadiums that are in disarray. Ahead of the World Cup, Brazil promised a massive and badly needed infrastructure upgrade. Roads, transportation and airports were all set to have work done on them. But everything started too late and/or has gone too slow. At least five of the host cities have said they won't have finished work on new transportation lines.
This month, the head of World Cup projects for Mato Grosso state acknowledged a light railway system in the city of Cuiaba won't be functional by June 12th when the World Cup starts. Fifty percent of airports haven't even finished half of the capacity upgrades needed to handle all the increased traffic. It was announced this week that World Cup visitors to the city of Fortaleza may be greeted by a makeshift passenger terminal housed in a tent because only a quarter of airport improvements there are done.
Brazil has notoriously uneven infrastructure. The roads here are few and badly maintained, meaning air travel is the way most people will get around during the World Cup. Many city bus lines are already over-stretched and overcrowded, so it's not clear how they will tackle the influx of tourists.
Talita Gonsales works as a researcher for the Popular Committee of the World Cup, a watchdog group monitoring public spending.
TALITA GONSALES: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is one of the greatest problems in Brazil, she says, the lack of planning, and the bad habit the Brazilian government has of announcing a project just so they can present it to the public but later they are unable to execute it. She says many of the World Cup infrastructure projects are incomplete or never even started. And she predicts that when the bill comes in after the games, there will be a lot of anger about where the money went and what Brazilians got for it. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.