‘FIFA World Cup venues won’t become white elephants’

Brasilia, April 11 (IANS) Brazil’s sports minister Aldo Rebelo has rejected claims that stadiums built for next year’s FIFA World Cup are in danger of becoming “white elephants”.

Speaking during a federal sports and tourism commission hearing in Brasilia Wednesday, Rebelo defended Brazil’s decision to build or rebuild 12 stadiums for the month-long tournament, Xinhua reports.

“Brazil is going through a modernisation process of our football,” Rebelo said. “Some people have asked how we can justify building these new stadiums in cities like Manaus and Cuiaba.”

“But Manaus represents the Amazon, which is 60 percent of the country’s territory. Cuiaba is a historical city that is the gateway to the Pantanal, a major tourist destination. Can we leave such important places out of a World Cup? I think not.”

Rebelo said public money was ceded to constructors in the form of low-interest credit of up to $400 million per stadium.

“The government agreed to loans through guarantees and strict requirements for builders,” Rebelo said. “Not all of the stadiums resorted to loans, like Brasilia, and others only asked for a portion.”

Rebelo’s comments came after former Brazil striker and now federal deputy Romario accused the government of wasting public funds on the stadiums.

According to Romario the overall budget for the new venues has risen from $1.1 billion to $2.9 billion.

“I’m not an engineer, architect or mathematician, but if I’m going to set a budget for my project, I can perhaps accept that it goes 20 or 30 percent over the original estimate. But 159 percent? I think this is a total lack of respect for public money,” Romario said.

Romario, who is a member of Brazil’s Socialist Party, said public funds could be better allocated to improving Brazil’s public services and essential infrastructure.

“The minister has done a good job but the reality is that Brazil is spending public money on an event that, no matter how important it is, will come and go. We will still have issues regarding health and education. And there will still be hunger.”

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