By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Following a 2010 series detailing the 2014 World Cup host cities in Brazil, it is time again to review the progress in Natal, capital of Northeastern state Rio Grande do Norte and an ever more popular tourist destination. The brand new Arena das Dunas, being built on the side of the old Machadão stadium, is being constructed for the FIFA World Cup and, after some setbacks along the way, runs the risk of not being ready to go come June 2014.
At the time of writing, the stadium is only thirty percent complete and the original deadline of December 2013, just fourteen months away, has now been cast into doubt. Reports are abound the arena may only be delivered just weeks prior to the World Cup kicking off, if indeed it is finished at all.
The terraces only began to be constructed last month and at present there are 1,200 workers at the site. With the countdown to kick-off underway, the sense is that more labor will need to be drafted in over the next few months.
Building works began in January 2011 and the estimated cost of the project is R$417 million. Yet of that figure, a whopping R$396.5 million is in the form of a bank loan, which is where the program has faced obstacles in freeing money from the bank.
Constructors DAS are in charge of the bricks and mortar, but out of all the stadium looked at thus far, Natal’s is in the most danger of ending up incomplete. Along with São Paulo, the pair could be dropped should FIFA decide to reduce the number of host cities from twelve to ten.
Should the stadium be completed on time, it will have a 43,000 capacity and will see four games during the tournament, all during the group stages. The matches will take place on June 13th, 16th, 19th and 24th.
The stadium follows the traditional Brazilian method of a bowl shaped arena spread over two tiers. But of the 43,000 seats, 10,000 will be removable. Despite football’s popularity in Natal, none of the city’s teams are particularly successful and the likelihood of any of them selling out a 43,000 seat stadium is unlikely.
The city is host to three sides, ABC, América and Alecrim. None of the clubs occupy a place in Serie ‘A’ of the Campeonato Brasileiro.
Aside from football Natal is an idyllic city with much to offer tourists. Last year alone saw more than two million people visit the North-Eastern city, a number that is expected to rise to three million by 2014.
With the expected influx of visitors, the city’s airport, the Aeroporto de São Gonçalo do Amarante, is also receiving a makeover in time for 2014. Much has been made in the Brazilian press about the state of the country’s airports, but work on São Gonçalo is moving along smoother than on the Arena das Dunas.
All in all, things are looking more bleak in Natal than any other World Cup host city. The stadium is the least advanced of the twelve despite work having begun over eighteen months ago.
If Natal is indeed cut by FIFA, the one upside is it would be one of the least used cities. With only four games to be played, finding another stadium close by should not prove challenging.