SAO PAULO – Brazil's World Cup ambassador Pele says he's concerned about the country's outdated airports less than 10 weeks before the tournament begins.
The country's greatest football star says it's worrisome how renovation and expansion is being handled for the airports that will receive World Cup visitors in June and July.
Although the country had seven years to prepare, Pele said authorities "are still building" the airports just before fans and teams start arriving.
His comments came after infrastructure experts told The Associated Press that improvements at the country's airports will not be ready in time for the World Cup.
Government numbers show that improvement work is finished at only two of the 13 major airports that will be used in the tournament, although officials insist everything needed for the World Cup will be ready.
"It's a concern. I arrived from a trip a few days ago and there was chaos at the airport," Pele said Monday in an event to launch a diamond collection honoring his career. "There are two months left for the World Cup and they are still building it. That's why I'm worried. We had this opportunity to show that Brazil is a great country and that it is growing, but things are not ready yet."
As the government's ambassador for the World Cup, one of Pele's roles is to promote the tournament locally and abroad.
Industry analysts told the AP this week that Brazil has run out of time to meet its promise to fully expand and renovate its airports. They don't expect total chaos when the World Cup begins on June 12, but said fans must be patient and brace for unfinished construction work, long check-in lines, flight delays and crowded boarding areas — all already common in the country's airports.
"The way they are managing the entrance and the exit of tourists at Brazil's airports is something that is worrying me," said the 73-year-old Pele, who travels frequently to handle his businesses worldwide.
Pele said that "unfortunately Brazil missed opportunities" to improve the country with the mega-sporting events it's hosting. It also held the Confederations Cup last year and will host the Rio Olympics in 2016.
"It's a shame," he said. "Now we have the World Cup and we have some problems. The biggest mistake was to forget that the World Cup and the Olympics could open the doors of Brazil for tourists and we didn't take advantage of this opportunity."
The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper released a poll on Tuesday saying only 48 percent of Brazilians are in favor of the World Cup in Brazil, down from 65 percent in June 2013 and 79 percent in 2008. The poll conducted with more than 2,500 people earlier this month has a 2 percent margin of error.
Upgrading airports was a key promise the government made in its winning bid in 2007. The government expects 600,000 foreign visitors and 3 million Brazilian tourists during the monthlong tournament.
Brazil's outdated airports were a problem long before the country was awarded the World Cup. Former Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira used to say that Brazil had three main problems to solve before the World Cup: "Airports, airports and airports."
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