(Adds statement from agency overseeing construction, comment from state prosecutor)
By Brian Winter
SAO PAULO, Feb 16 (Reuters) - An independent inspector will look into possible structural damage caused by an October fire at a World Cup stadium in western Brazil, following a Reuters report that the blaze was far worse than government officials have previously said.
The inspector, whose visit to the stadium in the city of Cuiabá was already scheduled for Monday, will report his findings back to world soccer body FIFA and Brazilian officials, FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said by telephone on Sunday.
“We’re looking into the allegations” that the fire caused structural damage to the stadium, Fischer said.
Reuters reported on Saturday that the Oct. 25 fire at the still-unfinished Arena Pantanal caused structural damage that could “compromise the overall stability of the construction,” according to a previously undisclosed report by state prosecutors in Mato Grosso state.
The 18-page document, which was written in December based on an inspection by a local civil engineer, contains photos that it says are of cracked concrete in the stadium’s pillars as well as less severe damage to its steel frame.
The state agency overseeing the stadium’s construction denied on Sunday that the fire had caused structural damage and said the prosecutor’s report was drafted before recent repairs were completed. The repairs, the agency said in a statement, were followed by stress tests and assurances given by the builders to the state agency that no structural damage exists.
However, an official from the state prosecutors’ office said on Sunday that independent inspections are needed to verify whether the assertion is correct.
“They have no credibility,” said Clovis de Almeida, the prosecutor, noting the agency’s reliance on the assurance of its own contractors.
Federal prosecutors said last week they were opening their own investigation into the fire based on the state prosecutors’ report. FIFA said it was previously “unaware” of any structural damage at the facility.
Arena Pantanal is one of 12 stadiums due to host games when the World Cup kicks off on June 12. The stadium missed a December deadline to complete construction, although state officials say it will be finished next month.
FIFA’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, is due to visit three World Cup venues in Brazil this week. Cuiabá is not on his itinerary.
The first pre-World Cup test scheduled for Arena Pantanal is a game between Brazilian soccer teams set for early April. Mato Grosso state prosecutors say they will not allow the stadium to be used for games until they are certain the facility is safe.
The World Cup matches scheduled for Cuiabá are June 13, between Chile and Australia; June 17, between Russia and South Korea; June 21, between Nigeria and Bosnia, and June 24, between Japan and Colombia. (Editing by Paulo Prada, Todd Benson and Matthew Lewis)