Fifa World Cup 2014

Threat of strike looms as Fifa leaders gather in Brazil

Tensions are high in Sao Paulo, the host city of the opening ceremony, as country gears up for showpiece tournament

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 1:01am

Global soccer leaders descended on Sao Paulo yesterday amid tensions over subway workers' new threat to spoil Brazil's World Cup party by going on strike on the day of the opening match.

Fifa opens its 64th Congress under the cloud of a corruption scandal surrounding the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, which has drawn rebukes from some of the world body's biggest sponsors.

Sao Paulo is meanwhile facing headaches after subway workers threatened to resume a damaging strike tomorrow, the day the world's eyes turn to the Brazilian mega-city for the start of a World Cup whose build-up has been plagued by delays, overspending and protests.

The workers voted on Monday to suspend their five-day-old strike, which had caused massive traffic jams and cut off subway service to the Corinthians Arena, the stadium hosting the opening ceremony and first match.

Officials are hard-pressed to avoid more problems as a billion people worldwide tune in to the game on television.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and 12 heads of state and government will be in the stadium, which workers are rushing to finish on time.

Work on the 12 host stadiums has been overshadowed by accidents that have killed eight workers, including three at the Corinthians Arena. That, along with construction delays, ballooning budgets and the shelving of infrastructure projects, has fuelled anger over the World Cup.

Rising inflation and a sluggish economy have dented Brazilians' enthusiasm for the event.

In a nation with a wide and highly visible gap between rich and poor, critics say the US$11 billion-plus spent on the tournament would have been better allocated to education, health, housing and transport.

Sao Paulo's subway workers had been facing growing pressure to end the latest strike, which stranded many of the system's 4.5 million daily riders.

On Monday, police cracked down on picketing workers, detaining 13 of them, and fired tear gas to break up a protest.

Authorities also fired 42 employees for vandalism, blocking commuters and inciting people to jump turnstiles.