By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Arena das Dunas stadium in Natal was officially opened this past weekend after a delay of around a month. Yet the good news was marred by more protests and arrests as factions of the public continue to make their feelings clear about Brazil’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup.
Natal is set to host four group-stage games during the World Cup this summer. Mexico versus Cameroon, on June 13th, Ghana versus USA, on June 16th, Japan versus Greece, on June 19th and Italy versus Uruguay, on June 24th, will all take place at the Arena das Dunas.
The trouble at the stadium’s opening game was not helped by the choice of match for the stadium’s inauguration. A fierce classíco between rivals America-RN and ABC, which has often led to violent disturbances in the past.
Around 40 minutes before kick-off on Sunday, two ABC fans shot in the direction of a group of America supporters. Both aggressors, Arthur Martins de Souza and João Batista Moura Filho were arrested, with no one taken injured.
There were also complaints prior to the game of the enormous queue to purchase or collect pre-paid tickets, with fans forced to stand for over an hour in soaring temperatures. A further seventeen people had been arrested on Saturday whilst protesting outside the Arena das Dunas.
It wasn’t just Natal that saw civil unrest voiced, protests were held in 31 cities across Brazil this past weekend against the spiraling costs of public spending on the World Cup. The largest were in São Paulo, where a 22-year-old, Fabrício Proteus Nunes Fonseca Mendonça Chaves, was reportedly found seriously injured from three bullet wounds in the Higienópolis.
Authorities say 146 people were arrested São Paulo on Saturday, but all were released without charge. Protests also occurred in World Cup host cities Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Fortaleza and Recife.
The negative headlines of the last few days comes on the back of the news that emerged from Curitiba last week. During an official FIFA visit made by the body’s general secretary, Jerôme Valcke, Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada was issued with a deadline of February 18th to guarantee work would be finished in time for the June kick-off.
With time fast running out, even those within the Brazilian camp appear to be turning on the organizing committees of the six remaining stadium projects that have fallen so drastically behind schedule. Of the six stadiums that were issued a December 31st deadline, none were delivered on time.
And the Seleção Brasileira’s technical director, Carlos Alberto Parreira, criticized the lack of organization for the upcoming mega event. Parreira had been the coach of the South African national team at the 2010 World Cup when they were hosts, and thinks Brazil have wasted what was a great chance to shine.
“We have missed an opportunity to show a different side to Brazil. We only think of winning the World Cup, and everything else is only a problem for the authorities,” he said in an interview with radio station Rádio CBN.