| SAO PAULO, June 2
SAO PAULO, June 2 Brazil's rush to complete work
on World Cup stadiums has been especially stressful for
wheelchair-bound fans, who fear they will struggle with
still-unfinished ramps, bleachers and sidewalks.
But a rehearsal game on Sunday in Sao Paulo was a pleasant
surprise, disabled fans said, especially in a country where
infrastructure is often deficient even for those with no
impediments. They credited the army of support staff that may
hold the key to Brazil's broader chances for a glitch-free
tournament beginning on June 12.
Congresswoman Mara Gabrilli, a quadriplegic and an
international activist on disability issues, attended Sunday's
"test match" between two local club teams after receiving
complaints about accessibility in many of Brazil's 12 host
It took Gabrilli two hours, three subway trains, nine
elevators and a wheelchair-accessible van provided by the city
government to get from central Sao Paulo to Arena Corinthians,
some 12 miles (20 km) to the east.
Once she arrived, though, she was impressed. Hundreds of
police, stadium staff and volunteers were on hand to provide
directions, push wheelchairs over cracks and otherwise help
atone for incomplete construction.
"It's very organized," said Gabrilli, a member of Brazil's
main opposition party. "So many people here to help! I'm
Brazil's World Cup preparations have been plagued by
construction delays and canceled plans for trains and other
public transportation projects. Fans are likely to face severe
traffic and other bottlenecks.
FIFA, soccer's governing body, has said that at least 1
percent of the Cup's 3 million tickets would be available to
disabled fans. Its media office did not respond to a request for
an updated number.
FIFA and local laws mandate that stadiums be
wheelchair-accessible. But in Brazil, as in many developing
countries, disabled fans will face accessibility challenges at
hotels, restaurants and other facilities.
Disabled fans' concerns were magnified last week after Rio
de Janeiro's municipal tourism secretary, Antonio Pedro Figueira
de Mello, said in a radio interview that organizers "haven't
given all the necessary attention" to disabled fans.
"Those people don't tend to come to World Cups that much
(anyway)," he added. His office later apologized, saying he
HARDER THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN
At an April 30 game in Natal, a host city in Brazil's
northeast, radio reporter Edeilson Felix said that while
accessibility at the stadium was "top-notch," he struggled to
get inside because the area remains a construction site.
Felix said a colleague had to maneuver his wheelchair
through puddles and over curbs. "It was a lot harder than it
should have been," he said.
Brazil's plan for dealing with this issue, and many others,
seems to be: Throw people at it.
That's a time-honored strategy in a country where logistics
and planning often fall short but where labor is relatively
cheap and people are famously friendly and helpful.
It seemed to work Sunday.
Reuters spoke to 11 fans in wheelchairs. They, and many
others, expressed satisfaction, even though some areas of Arena
Corinthians are still missing chairs or are blocked off by
As the game ended, 12 city vans waited to take Gabrilli and
other wheelchair-bound fans back to the train stop. Similar vans
will be running during the tournament.
Gabrilli said Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest and wealthiest
city, has "by far" the best wheelchair infrastructure - so
events in other cities might not run as smoothly.
"We'll be watching closely for any problems," she said on
Sunday. "But today was a good sign."
(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada in Natal, Brazil; Editing
by Douglas Royalty)