Workers go on strike at delayed World Cup stadium

Workers went on strike over late pay at one of the stadiums

enduring the longest delays ahead of the World Cup in Brazil,

officials said Saturday.

The work stoppage happened in the southern city of Curitiba,

where world champion Spain is expected to be based during

football’s showcase event next year.

Curitiba Mayor Gustavo Fruet said about one-third of the

stadium’s 1,200 workers took part in the strike that lasted up to

three days this week. He said protesting workers blocked a city

avenue for about an hour on Friday.

”There was a delay of the payment and there was a strike,” he

said.

The deadline for Curitiba’s stadium has already been pushed back

to mid-February because of construction delays that officials said

resulted from belated financing. The stadium belongs to Brazilian

first division club Atletico Paranaense and is undergoing extensive

renovation to host matches in next year’s World Cup.

Mauro Holzmann, the club’s marketing and communications chief,

downplayed the labor unrest.

He claimed that only 150 workers were involved and they only

downed tools for two hours on Friday. He also said their pay was

just one day late and that the labor contractor has since been

paid. He didn’t know, however, if the contractor had relayed the

payment to the workers.

”It won’t happen again. It was just a little

misunderstanding,” Holzmann said.

A group of workers taking a break in the stadium said they were

owed one month’s pay. They said they would down tools again next

week if the money promised to them doesn’t arrive.

The Arena da Baixada will host four World Cup matches, including

Australia vs. Spain on June 23. The Curitiba stadium is expected to

hold its first test game in February, two months after the original

deadline established by FIFA for stadium delivery.

Officials said it took longer than expected to put together the

stadium’s complex financing.

”It was just red tape, Brazilian bureaucracy,” Holzmann said.

”A state development bank loan originally expected in June 2012

was seven months late.”

Atletico Paranaense, which finished third in this year’s

Brazilian league, is funding one third of the renovation costs,

with the rest coming from state and city governments. The

renovation was expected to cost about $80 million but is now

budgeted at almost $115 million.

The pitch has not been laid or even flattened, with mounds of

earth and gravel still in place. Most of the seats haven’t been

installed, the roof isn’t finished and VIP boxes have no glass or

fittings.

Organizers recently gave up on installing a retractable roof

that was in the original design. FIFA made the request to remove

the roof from the World Cup project because it would not be

finished in time and would delay the overall construction.

In early October, a Brazilian labor judge halted work at the

Arena da Baixada for nearly a week because of safety concerns.

In the World Cup stadium in the jungle city of Manaus, where on

Saturday a worker fell to his death and another died of an apparent

heart attack outside the venue, a local union threatened to start a

strike on Monday to complain about inadequate conditions offered to

laborers.

In Curitiba and Cuiaba, another World Cup city with an overdue

stadium, journalists who visited this week were subjected to the

somewhat surreal experience of being shown presentations that bore

scant resemblance to the reality outside.

At Cuiaba’s stadium, officials showed slides of a beautifully

green pitch, VIP lounges with comfy seats and a landscaped

exterior. But in reality the newly seeded pitch is a muddy field,

the stadium has no seats and its surroundings are still red earth

turning gooey with the onset of the rainy season.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from

Sao Paulo.

Leicester is an international sports columnist for The

Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow

him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester