FIFA give Curitiba World Cup reprieve

FIFA handed a World Cup reprieve to the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday, barely one month after threatening to axe it from the event over construction work delays.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said the decision to retain the city as a venue came after sharp progress on building at the 41,000-seater Arena da Baixada.

The venue, which is to host four first round matches including Spain's clash with Australia on June 23, had previously missed a series of deadlines set by FIFA.

"Yes, Curitiba will remain as one of the 12 host cities," Valcke told a news conference.

"It is a race against a very tight timeline and will require regular monitoring.

Any axing of Curitiba would have dealt a humiliating blow to Brazil, where the multi-billion-dollar costs of staging the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics are deeply unpopular.

Brazil's preparations for the showpiece tournament have also been marred by a series of fatal accidents at three venues which left six construction workers dead.

A double fatality at Sao Paulo, which will stage the opening game, put that venue's pre-event tests back until mid-April.

In addition, there have been three construction deaths at Manaus in the Amazon region and one at Brasilia.

But the possibility that Curitiba could be scrapped has concentrated minds in Brazil and local authorities have now looked to bank loans totaling some $30 million for the venue itself to complete the stadium.

Removing Curitiba would have opened a potential legal minefield of claims over cancelled flights and lost tourist revenue.

Valcke stressed organisers were in a partnership with FIFA involving "clear commitments" which in FIFA's case totals $1.4 billion.

Contractors have brought in hundreds of extra workers and the stadium is now set for a mid-May finish.

- 'Still much to do' -

Ricardo Trade, chief executive of the local organising committee, admitted: "There is still much to do but we have always been confident Curitiba will deliver."

FIFA assessor Charles Botta had earlier completed the world body's latest appraisal of the site, where delays arose after costs rose almost threefold from an initial $60 million projection.

Stadium owners Atletico Paraenense had wanted to fund what is the renovation of an existing site on its own but has had to go cap in hand to public authorities to complete the job.

In Curitiba, local people say there has been a lack of transparency on spending.

The stadium was due initially to cost 130 million Reais ($65 million) but the price tag has risen to 320 million.

Local protesters called a march for Tuesday afternoon to slam the rising costs and use of public funds.

Deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes meanwhile insisted the stadium was "beautiful" and that lessons had been learned.

"It is great to see the significant progress made since our last visit. It's a city which lives and breathes football," Fernandes said.

He added Brazil would as a whole benefit from the investments being made in all 12 host cities.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently chided Brazil for not starting preparations quickly enough, saying the hosts were further behind than any other in his four decades with football's world body.

Tuesday's decision has overshadowed the arrival of the coaches of the 32 qualifying nations in the southern city of Florianapolis for a pre-World Cup seminar from Wednesday on logistics.

However, it vindicated Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's insistence when she met Blatter in Zurich last month that Curitiba would make it.

After visiting Curitiba in January Valcke had been blunt.

He said: "We cannot organise a match without a stadium, this has reached a critical point."

General view of the Arena da Baixada stadium under construction in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil, on December 14, 2013