For disabled fans and others, World Cup rehearsal eases fears

Mon Jun 2, 2014 3:06pm EDT
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By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's rush to complete work on World Cup stadiums has been especially stressful for wheelchair-bound fans, who fear they will struggle with still-unfinished ramps, bleachers and sidewalks.

But a rehearsal game on Sunday in Sao Paulo was a pleasant surprise, disabled fans said, especially in a country where infrastructure is often deficient even for those with no impediments. They credited the army of support staff that may hold the key to Brazil's broader chances for a glitch-free tournament beginning on June 12.

Congresswoman Mara Gabrilli, a quadriplegic and an international activist on disability issues, attended Sunday’s “test match” between two local club teams after receiving complaints about accessibility in many of Brazil’s 12 host cities.

It took Gabrilli two hours, three subway trains, nine elevators and a wheelchair-accessible van provided by the city government to get from central Sao Paulo to Arena Corinthians, some 12 miles (20 km) to the east.

Once she arrived, though, she was impressed. Hundreds of police, stadium staff and volunteers were on hand to provide directions, push wheelchairs over cracks and otherwise help atone for incomplete construction.

“It’s very organized,” said Gabrilli, a member of Brazil’s main opposition party. “So many people here to help! I’m surprised.”

Brazil’s World Cup preparations have been plagued by construction delays and canceled plans for trains and other public transportation projects. Fans are likely to face severe traffic and other bottlenecks.

FIFA, soccer's governing body, has said that at least 1 percent of the Cup's 3 million tickets would be available to disabled fans. Its media office did not respond to a request for an updated number.   Continued...

Congresswoman Mara Gabrilli, a quadriplegic and an international activist on disability issues, waits for a train to Arena de Sao Paulo stadium at a subway station in Sao Paulo June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Chico Ferreira