BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took a swipe at the naysayers on Monday as she officially inaugurated the last of six stadiums that Brazil will use next month to host a warm-up for the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament.
“The pessimists said the stadiums would not be ready in time, but we are showing them today that we can deliver high-quality stadiums,” Rousseff said in a speech in Recife before opening the 46,000-seat Arena Pernambuco outside the northeastern Brazilian city.
Rousseff said Brazil is fulfilling its commitments with global soccer body FIFA, whose secretary general Jerome Valcke last year angered Brazilians by saying the country needed a “kick up the backside” to get World Cup preparations moving.
On Saturday, Rousseff kicked the first symbolic ball on the newly-laid pitch of the brand new Mane Garrincha National Stadium in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, where Brazil will face Japan in the first game of the eight-nation Confederations Cup on June 15.
At a cost 1.2 billion reais ($590.1 million), the colonnaded stadium is the most expensive of the 12 that Brazil is building for next year’s 32-nation World Cup, and a prime candidate to become a white elephant in a city with no major soccer club.
Yet some of its 309 toilets were not ready yet and flooded during a test game between two local teams that filled half the 71,000-seat stadium. Its big test will come next Sunday, May 26, when two of Brazil’s top teams - Flamengo and Santos - will fill the venue for the opening of the Brazilian national league.
“These six stadiums show the ability and determination we have building the six remaining stadiums,” Rousseff said on Saturday.
Only two stadiums were completed in time for the December deadline originally set by FIFA, which takes over the first batch of stadiums on Tuesday.
FIFA has said it will not budge on the deadline for the second batch of stadiums due by the end of this year.
The main problem will be the Sao Paulo stadium where the World Cup is due to kick off in June 2014. Builders threatened to halt construction because of a financing dispute that might throw Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup into disarray and embarrass the government.
Major logistical problems during the World Cup could damage Brazil’s image as an emerging power that is seeking to become a bigger player on the world stage. FIFA is worried that communications and transport infrastructure may not be ready to cope with the estimated 500,000 soccer fans who will descend on 12 Brazilian cities next year for the World Cup.
Western governments worry that Brazil is not prepared to counter possible terrorist threats during the massive event and the Olympic games that Rio de Janeiro will host in 2016.
Brazilian security forces have gone on a shopping spree for equipment to bolster their defenses for the global sports events and the first trip abroad by Pope Francis to Rio de Janeiro in July.
The Brazilian police have bought drones to keep an eye on the areas around the soccer stadiums during the games.
To enhance security for the tournaments, Brazil said it will buy robots that can inspect suspicious packages and detect and diffuse chemical and explosive devices in a $7.2 million contract awarded to Boston-based iRobot Corp.
Last week, the first of 32 used anti-aircraft Flakpanzer Gepard tanks bought from the German army to help bolster air defenses in the World Cup cities rolled off a ship in Rio.
Cranking up security ahead of the Confederations Cup, Brazil launched a massive military operation on Saturday to secure its porous 10,440-mile (16,802-km) frontier, much of which is Amazon jungle and rivers. The 25,000 troops and police agents will crack down on drug trafficking and smuggling of arms and illegal migrants, Brazil’s defense ministry said.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle