BRASILIA: Football’s governing body FIFA apologized to Brazil Tuesday in a bid to defuse a blazing row over criticism of the country’s lagging preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke ignited the controversy Friday when he suggested that the Brazilian organizers needed a “kick up the backside.” That drew a sharp rebuke from Brazil, with Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo saying Valcke would no longer be welcome as a FIFA spokesman.
On Tuesday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter stepped in to calm the row, offering an apology over Valcke’s remarks which Brazil — Latin America’s dominant power and now the world’s sixth largest economy — perceived as an affront.
“Both as FIFA president and personally, I would like to apologize to all those — above all the Brazilian government and President Dilma Rousseff — who feel that their honor and pride has been injured,” he said in a letter sent to Rebelo.
“We have a common goal — the organization of an extraordinary World Cup in the land of football, in the land of champions,” he added. “Brazil deserves to host the World Cup and the entire world is looking forward to it.” Blatter also said he would like to meet Rousseff and Rebelo “as soon as possible, ideally next week” to defuse the row.
FIFA have for months expressed concern in varying degrees over the extent to which preparations — renovation or construction of stadiums as well as infrastructure projects — are on track for the first World Cup in Brazil since 1950.
Earlier, Valcke himself offered his own apology in a letter to Rebelo, saying he “profoundly regretted that an incorrect interpretation” of his comments had triggered such an angry response from the host country.
“I would like to present my apologies to everyone who was offended by my comments,” said Valcke, a French national.
He explained that in French, the phrase “se donner un coup de pied aux fesses” (to give someone a kick up the backside) only meant “to pick up the pace.” The translation into Portuguese used a stronger expression, he added.
“I don’t understand why things are not moving. The stadiums are not on schedule anymore and why are a lot of things late?” Valcke said Friday.
Also on Tuesday, a legislative panel approved a bill sought by FIFA since 2007 that would notably lift a ban on beer sales in stadiums during the World Cup, according to congressional sources.
The bill must now be endorsed in plenary session by both houses of Congress before being signed by Rousseff.
Sales of alcoholic beverages in sports arenas have been banned in Brazil since 2003, but the bill would create an exception, allowing beer to be sold in plastic cups at World Cup matches.
FIFA has an agreement with its sponsor, the US-based Anheuser-Busch brand Budweiser, and prohibiting beer sales would cut into the football organization’s revenues from the games.
The bill would also authorize 300,000 low-cost tickets for students and underprivileged recipients of the government’s welfare programs.
Candido Vaccarezza, the government leader in the lower house, told reporters he expected the two houses of Congress to pass the legislation Wednesday, A senior FIFA official visiting Brazil meanwhile said Tuesday that there was no doubt that the opening game of the 2014 World Cup will be held as planned in Sao Paulo’s Corinthians stadium, which is currently under construction.
“We don’t have any doubt that the opening of the World Cup will take place in the Corinthians stadium,” Fulvio Danilas, FIFA general manager, told reporters.
Danilas was part of a joint team of 40 experts from FIFA and Brazil’s Local Organizing Committee (LOC) that began a tour of six of the 12 cities that will stage World Cup games: Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Cuiaba, Manaus and Natal.
Sao Paulo was the team’s first stop for a look at progress in the construction of the 65,000-seat Corinthians arena which began last May with a year’s delay and should be finished at the end of next year.
The team members donned white helmets to tour the sprawling construction site — a $463 million project undertaken by Brazil’s engineering and construction giant Odebrecht.
“The work is 29 percent complete,” Frederico Barbosa, Odebrecht operations manager, told AFP. “The foundations have been laid. The outer structures are up. Everything is going according to plan.” - AFP