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Brazil eyes upgrades for 2014 World Cup

SAO PAULO (AP) ― Brazil needs to improve the pace of upgrades to airports, infrastructure and stadiums before the 2014 World Cup, according to a report from a government watchdog group.

The Brazilian Audit Court criticized officials for missing deadlines, not controlling costs and a lack of transparency in their work. The Audit Court is responsible for overseeing how the Brazilian government spends public money.

Brazil’s World Cup organizing committee said in an e-mail on Friday that it had no comment at this time on the report.

The report says 2011 is a key year to start major projects so they can be completed before the World Cup. But it found widespread problems in most of the 12 host cities.

There are issues with urban transportation improvements in some host cities and doubts whether the crown jewel of Brazilian soccer ― Maracana Stadium in Rio ― will be ready as scheduled, the report said.

The warning comes just days after soccer great Pele and former FIFA president Joao Havelange expressed concerns about the pace of preparations for soccer’s biggest tournament.

Pele said Brazil was facing a “big risk of being embarrassed” because of delays in stadium construction and the renovation of the nation’s overcrowded and saturated airports.

The report, published Wednesday, said there is a “very great risk” of misuse of public funds similar to what occurred in preparations for the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. The government acknowledged that it made serious mistakes in planning and financing for the Olympic-style event.

While airport renovations in cities are expected to begin this year, the report said problems with bidding processes and environmental licensing may cause delays in upgrading Brazil’s woeful airport infrastructure.

That’s already the case with the Viracopos airport in Campinas, near Sao Paulo. Upgrade work is behind schedule because of difficulties getting the necessary environmental licenses.

Work at the Salvador airport in northeastern Brazil is stalled by delays in the bidding process.

Faltering airport infrastructure and lack of capacity is one of the main concerns ahead of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Even without those major events, the booming Brazilian economy is rapidly increasing the number of passengers the airports serve as a growing middle class increases its use of air travel. Most airports will need significant upgrades to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the monthlong tournament in 2014.

The audit court warned last year that renovations in some airports may not be completed by 2014.

Stadium construction is another reason for concern.

Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city, has yet to have a stadium project approved by FIFA even though the deadline from the governing body expired last year. Corinthians soccer club says it will build a World Cup venue, but there is still discussion about whether it will be able to host the tournament’s opening match.

Maracana, likely to host the final, has seen a significant increase in its renovation budget. The report said authorities face a tight deadline to get the stadium ready according to the original timeline. The famed venue is also expected to be used in the 2013 Confederations Cup.