Posted: Wednesday March 6, 2013 5:18 PM

FIFA visit to Maracana canceled because of floods

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SAO PAULO (AP) -Concern over preparations at the Maracana ahead of the Confederations Cup increased after FIFA and the local World Cup organizing committee were forced to cancel Wednesday's inspection visit because the stadium was flooded.

Parts of the construction site and some equipment were virtually submerged after the heavy rain that fell in Rio de Janeiro late Tuesday. Television images showed shirtless workers using large white buckets to remove water that accumulated overnight in parts of the stadium's recently installed rooftop.

"We are heading to Rio and we will have a meeting with the governor,'' FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said, according to Brazilian media accompanying his visit to the central city of Belo Horizonte. "If you see images of the stadium you will be concerned. The stadium is under water. We are really concerned.''

Details of the meeting were not made available, but Rio de Janeiro authorities downplayed the disruption caused by the flood, saying "the problems caused by the rain were being solved and the construction timetable was not affected.''

The field was covered by water and looked more like a huge swimming pool, and workers were not able to get into the construction site in the morning. Organizers said they were working again later in the day.

"The operational visit by teams of FIFA and the local organizing committee was cancelled because of the heavy rain which affected the city of Rio de Janeiro,'' organizers said in a brief statement on Wednesday.

The rain caused havoc in the city, leading to power outages and the death of at least four people, according to local authorities.

Maracana will host the final of the Confederations Cup and of the World Cup in 2014. It will also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

A few days ago the stadium's renovation was briefly put on hold because workers threatened to go on strike demanding better salaries and benefits.

Work at the venue, which hosted the 1950 World Cup final, is nearly 90 percent complete, according to local authorities.

Members of FIFA and the organizing committee had planned the technical visit ahead of Valcke's arrival to Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, when he will participate in a board meeting of the local World Cup organizing committee.

At the start of his three-day visit to inspect host cities on Tuesday, Valcke hinted that the renovation at Maracana was his biggest concern about three months before the Confederations Cup is to begin. He told Brazilian media that the city was "the one that worries me the most.''

The secretary general visited the northeastern city of Recife on Tuesday and was in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday to inspect the Mineirao Stadium, which faced problems during its inauguration earlier this year, including a faulty field.

"Some people criticized what's happened at the opening game by saying that this or that was not working,'' Valcke said. "I mean, what has happened at the opening game is the best for us, for FIFA. It means that we have time between the opening game and the first game in June to correct and to make sure that all will be perfectly well done for the Confederations Cup.''

Thursday will mark 100 days to go before the Confederations Cup begins on June 15 in Brasilia, the nation's capital. The final at Maracana will be on June 30.

The warm-up tournament for the World Cup will also be played in the northeastern cities of Salvador and Fortaleza. Only the Mineirao and the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza have been completed so far. The Fonte Nova Arena was expected to be completed last week but the stadium's delivery was delayed.

FIFA initially wanted all stadiums ready by last December but had to extend the deadline until April 15 because of the delays.

"We want, again, to express our concern whenever we haven't received the stadium on time because that's what we need,'' Valcke said. "We need time to run test events, to make sure we can correct what's not good in the stadium.''

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