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Venezuela garners criticism from fans



Published: Sun, July 8, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.

Politics may have seeped into the South American soccer championships.

BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (AP) — When President Hugo Chavez brought the Copa America to Venezuela for the first time, his government sought to showcase the oldest international soccer tournament as a smoothly organized success.

But as the South American championship enters its final week, complaints are surfacing of ticket shortages, unfinished stadiums and other organizational headaches.

Some soccer fans have complained that it has been impossible to buy tickets without going to pricey resellers, even when stadiums are half full, leading the opposition to accuse the government of hoarding tickets to give to its supporters.

Caracas has been at the center of recent protests over Chavez’s refusal to renew the license of an opposition-aligned television channel.

And despite a government ban on protests in or near stadiums, politics has spilled into the stadiums. Chavez himself was heckled at the inaugural game, and in most matches chants of “This government is going to fall” and “Freedom, freedom” can be heard.

Different stories

The government has denied holding back tickets. But one opposition party filed a complaint Friday with the government’s Indecu consumer protection agency against De Lujo Promociones, accusing the private concession handling ticket sales of providing a local soccer club 42,000 tickets to Sunday’s quarterfinal in Maturin between Paraguay and Mexico.

To back his claim, William Ojeda, vice president of the opposition party A New Time, presented what he said was a receipt of the transaction, saying it violated De Lujo’s own three tickets-per-person limit.

“We demand Indecu investigate this receipt and this attempt to hoard tickets,” Ojeda said in a statement published on the party’s Web site. “The government cannot abuse the public’s faith in this manner.”

There was no immediate reaction from the government, which has denied holding back tickets.

Preparations

Venezuela is better known for its love of baseball than of soccer, but the government has spent more than $1 billion building or renovating nine stadiums and improving related infrastructure to prepare for the tournament.

Eduardo Deluca, secretary-general of the South American soccer federation CONMEBOL, praised Venezuela’s preparations.

“I’m positively surprised,” Deluca told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. He said Venezuela now has its infrastructure “at an extraordinary level.”

Some stadiums, however, still look more like dust-filled construction sites.

Minutes before the Colombia-United States game Thursday, workers at Barquisimeto’s Monumental Stadium could still be seen painting reinforced-concrete beams with metal bars sticking out. Although the recently planted grass turf looked impeccable, the doors were fixed shut on elevators that weren’t working.

Such construction glitches have surfaced before in other major sports events elsewhere in Latin America, but sometimes they cause logistical problems.

Traffic problems

After a match Thursday between Argentina and Paraguay, it took a team bus more than 90 minutes to deliver the Argentines to their hotel because of a traffic jam on the new highway leading to the stadium, which remains a one-lane dirt road in several patches.

Andres Ventura, spokesman for the Argentina team, called the delay excessive and said the bus wasn’t able to advance through traffic despite a police escort.

Other glitches have included a June 13 decision by the South American soccer federation to move one quarterfinal from Barinas to Puerto La Cruz after labor disputes delayed completion of the stadium.


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