FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — A southern Brazilian city will host matches during this year's World Cup despite serious problems in the renovation of a stadium that put it on the brink of becoming the first venue ever to be kicked out because of delays, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said Tuesday.
Valcke made the announcement during a news conference. FIFA said on its official media Twitter account that the decision to keep the city of Curitiba as a host during the Cup was made because of "financial guarantees, the commitment by all stakeholders" and progress in renovation work.
"It's a race against a very tight timeline," FIFA Tweeted. "Collective effort by all stakeholders involved in Curitiba must continue at highest pace."
While Curitiba remains, the issue highlights the severe organizational problems Brazil has had to overcome since it won the right to host this year's Cup in 2014. Officials in Brazil want to use the tournament to highlight the nation's advances made in the past decade.
But widespread anti-government protests that question the billions being spent on the Cup, along with delays in preparations, has hurt Brazil's image.
Paulo Vinicius Coelho, a sports columnist for Brazil's largest newspaper, the Folha de S.Paulo, said in a phone interview that he didn't think Curitiba would be kicked out of the Cup, but "the fact that we have been discussing that possibility has caused a negative impact on the country's image, because the message imparted was that things are not going the way they should be going."
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke last month gave local organizers in Curitiba an ultimatum: Drastically speed up construction or be dropped from the tournament.
FIFA has long warned Brazil to pick up the pace of work in several cities and get more organized in its preparations for the World Cup. Two years ago, Valcke told Brazilian officials, "You have to push yourself, kick your (backside)."
Brazil's Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo demanded an apology for the "unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate," remarks. Valcke and FIFA President Sepp Blatter eventually apologized, but the pressure on Brazil hasn't relented.
FIFA's decision came just hours after Charles Botta, who reports to FIFA's top management on the progress of all stadiums, made a final inspection in Curitiba.
The delays in Curitiba have been surprising. The city is widely considered the most advanced in Brazil, with an efficient transportation system and urban planning praised by the United Nations and others for its environmentally friendly bent.
But organizers in the city ran out of money and had difficulties securing additional financing to finish the work. Although construction progressed in recent weeks, FIFA would only allow the city to stay in the tournament if there were guarantees that financing for the entire work was secured.
Curitiba was among the 12 venues announced as hosts by Brazilian organizers in 2009.
After Brazil won the World Cup bid as a sole candidate two years earlier, FIFA said that eight venues would be enough, but Brazilian organizers insisted on adding more cities to the tournament. The country had seven years to get ready, but with four months left before the opener, five stadiums remain under construction.
"This should have been ample time in which to complete the infrastructure," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said recently. He added that Brazil was the nation "farthest behind" in Cup preparations that he'd seen in his four decades of experience with FIFA.
After Valcke visited Curitiba last month, FIFA focused its demands on getting organizers to hire more workers and to show guarantees that they could obtain the extra $28 million in financing needed to finish the project.
Local officials put in the request for a loan from Brazil's national development bank last week, but approval is still pending.
Even so, the stadium is not expected to be fully finished until sometime in April, just two months before the World Cup starts. One of FIFA's concerns is whether it will have time to install all temporary facilities needed at the site.
Among the teams set to play in Curitiba is defending World Cup champion Spain, which will face Australia on June 23. The other matches at the venue will be Iran-Nigeria on June 16, Algeria-Russia on June 26 and Honduras-Ecuador on June 30.
Spain has already announced that it will train in Curitiba during the World Cup.
Only seven of the 12 stadiums have been completed ahead of the World Cup opener on June 12. Brazil had promised FIFA to have all venues ready by the end of last year.
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
Follow Tales Azzoni on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tazzoni