* 41 percent of World Cup projects have yet to begin
* Only five projects complete so far - Sports Ministry
* Total World Cup investments estimated at $13.2 bln
BRASILIA, May 23 With little more than two years
until the kickoff of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, nearly 41
percent of the infrastructure projects planned by the government
haven't left the drawing board, according to an official report
released on Wednesday.
While stadium construction is progressing on schedule,
infrastructure investments such as airports, mass transit and
ports continue to lag behind significantly, with 41 out of 101
projects awaiting the start of construction or still in the
planning stage, Brazil's Sports Ministry said in the report.
Tension between Brazil's local organizing committee and
world soccer body FIFA over the slow pace of progress reached a
breaking point in March, when FIFA's general secretary Jerome
Valcke said Brazil needed a "kick up the backside" to speed up
the work. The remark severely strained relations between FIFA
and Brazil, though ties have since improved.
Still, FIFA president Sepp Blatter voiced concerns again
earlier this month about the slow pace of preparations and said
he wanted the delays to be made up as soon as possible.
Brazil's government has continued to insist that the work
will be finished on time, though to date, only five projects
have been completed, according the government's report.
"I don't know why there is this prejudice against projects
that are still on paper," Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told
reporters in Brasilia on Wednesday, arguing that Brazil's
complex legal and legislative requirements present roadblocks
that tend to slow the approval process.
"That said, as we have already stated, nothing will be left
undone due to these requirements," he said.
The status report highlights Brazil's ongoing struggle with
infrastructure development, where overcrowded airports,
crumbling roads and backed-up ports have proved an obstacle to
the country's economic development in recent years.
Brazil's government is attempting to address some of those
shortfalls through the World Cup investments, for which it
intends to spend a total of 27 billion reais ($13.24 billion).
On Wednesday morning, a previously-announced strike by
subway and commuter train workers in Brazil's largest city Sao
Paulo caused a record traffic jam extending for 155 miles. The
chaos prompted concern that if the pace of infrastructure
investment doesn't pick up, Brazil's cities may not be ready for
the mass influx of tourists expected for the World Cup and the
2016 Olympic Games.
($1 = 2.04 Brazilian reais)
(Reporting By Jeferson Ribeiro and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by
Asher Levine; Editing by Todd Benson)