By Eduardo Simoes
A CRANE collapsed on Wednesday at the construction site of the stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is due to host the opening ceremony of the football World Cup, killing at least two people and apparently causing damage to the structure.
The stadium, which was scheduled to be finished in the next month or so, is to be the site of the opening game and five other matches when Brazil hosts the tournament in June and July.
A spokesman for the São Paulo fire department confirmed the two deaths, both construction workers. A police spokeswoman had previously put the death toll at three.
Local media including Folha de S.Paulo newspaper said a crane was lifting a piece of roof into place when the accident occurred, sending the roof crashing down onto the side of the structure. A spokesperson for Odebrecht SA, the company building the stadium, declined immediate comment.
Brazil has struggled to deliver stadiums, public transportation improvements and other World Cup-related projects within the timelines specified by world soccer body FIFA. Some construction sites, such as a new terminal at Sao Paulo’s international airport, are being built around the clock seven days a week to try to finish them before the Cup.
The Sao Paulo stadium, formally called Arena Corinthians but known locally as Itaquerão for the area where it is located, was 94 per cent complete at the time of the accident, according to the stadium’s website.
Photos taken by local media appeared to show significant damage to the exterior of the stadium.
It was not clear if the damage could pose a major delay to opening the stadium, according to Ricardo Trade, executive director of the local organizing committee for the World Cup.
“It’s impossible to make any forecasts at this moment,” Trade said. “What we know is what the images are showing, that part of the structure fell down.”
“At the same time, we can’t think that if construction is delayed by three months, the stadium will end up out of the World Cup.”
Corinthians, the professionalfootball club that will play in the stadium after the tournament, lamented the accident in a short statement but declined further comment.
“Extremely shocked by the news from Sao Paulo,” FIFA’s executive secretary Jerome Valcke wrote on his Twitter account. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of this accident.”
“We are currently awaiting further details from the authorities, who are investigating this tragic accident,” Valcke added.
The incident is a further blow to Brazil’s image and its preparations to host the 2014 tournament. Six stadiums were used in the Confederations Cup warm-up tournament in June, but several of them were delivered later than FIFA wanted.
Another six, including Itaquerão, are due to be delivered by the end of December but all indications are that at least two, in Manaus and Cuiabá, will not be ready on time. Even Itaquerão, which was due to be finished on schedule, will not begin to install 20,000 temporary seats until February.
The accident also casts further scrutiny on Brazil’s building standards. One worker was killed earlier this year while working on Palmeiras’ new stadium, also in Sao Paulo. Several people were injured when a fence collapsed just weeks after Gremio opened their brand new arena in the southern city of Porto Alegre in January.
And the Engenhão stadium built for the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro was forced to close in June after engineers said the roof was in danger of collapsing in high winds. The arena is due to be used as the Olympic stadium in 2016 and will be closed for 18 months for repairs.
The Itaquerão stadium, on the gritty east side of Sao Paulo, was originally budgeted at 350 million reais ($152.2 million) but that shot up to over 1 billion reais after local authorities decided to hold the prestigious opening match there.
Former Corinthians President Andres Sanchez said FIFA’s demands for more elevators, leather seats and extra space for sponsors were among the reasons for the massive increase.