Still plenty of concerns as World Cup set to kick off 

click to enlarge Itaquerao Stadium
  • AP Photo/Felipe Dana
  • General view at the Itaquerao Stadium during an official training session the day before the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Croatia in the Itaquerao Stadium, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
SAO PAULO — The biggest question for Thursday’s opening match of the World Cup isn’t whether host Brazil can beat Croatia but how the unfinished and troublesome Itaquerao Stadium will hold up in its first ever encounter with a full-capacity crowd.

Will everything work? More importantly, will the 61,600 spectators be safe? Not even World Cup organizers can be totally sure. Because of chronic delays, worker deaths and other problems during its construction, the new arena has never been match-tested at close to full capacity.

Heads of state, VIPs and other lucky ticket holders will, like it or not, become guinea pigs by making up the first crowd to completely fill the stadium and put full strain on all its facilities, safety plans and equipment, managers and staff.

“If that was me who had to run that event, I’d be extremely nervous,” said John Beattie, president of the European Stadium and Safety Management Association, an industry group of sports-venue executives.

Alarmingly, seemingly lax security at and around the Itaquerao allowed an Associated Press reporter to wander freely this week through unfinished and empty rooms, electrical rooms and uncompleted executive suites. Exposed wires and unfitted lights hung from ceilings. Corridors and other areas smelling strongly of plaster and paint and glue were clogged with uninstalled furniture and fittings.

Not once in more than two hours Tuesday — some 48 hours before the stadium fills for the opening match — did anyone ask or challenge the reporter as he explored multiple floors, in areas on all four sides of the stadium and in unfinished hospitality tents outside where sponsors and organizers will host guests and clients. Only once, at the perimeter fence when entering the stadium complex, were the reporter’s credentials and heavy bag scanned.

“That’s outrageous,” said Lou Elliston, an inspector at the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, a British government regulator of football venues in England and Wales. She oversaw the openings of the renovated Wembley Stadium in London and the new Emirates Stadium that Arsenal moved to in 2006.

“It’s just unthinkable. You could not wander around Wembley. You would just come across doors that you couldn’t get through. That is a big issue.”

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