After accidents, WCup organizers defend record

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.”

Follow John Leicester at http://twitter.com/johnleicester