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Saturday, March 10, 2012

After spat, Brazil and FIFA try to get to work

Brazil and FIFA have put their rift behind them. Now it’s time to get to work.
A public dispute brought uncertainty over the country’s preparations, but both sides are moving forward after apologies from FIFA were accepted by the Brazilian government Thursday and approval of a key bill in Brazil’s Congress.
With two years to go until the World Cup and just more than a year before the Confederations Cup, infrastructure remains a concern along with stadium construction problems in some cities.
FIFA inspectors are visiting host cities, checking on progress and working closely with local governments. The team of nearly 40 people from FIFA and the local organizing committee were in the southern city of Curitiba on Thursday.
Things looked bleak only a few days ago, with questions raised about whether Brazil would be able to host soccer’s premier event. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke sent a blunt, vulgar message to Brazil on Friday about preparations.
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo called the comment “unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate’’ and told FIFA the government would not deal with Valcke anymore. Valcke apologized Monday, as did FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Sports Ministry said in an emailed statement that Rebelo had sent letters to Blatter and Valcke indicating he had accepted their apologies. The statement said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would meet with Blatter, but didn’t indicate when.
The letters didn’t explicitly say Brazil was withdrawing its request to no longer work with Valcke. The ministry said the matter would likely be resolved after Rousseff met with Blatter, probably next week in Brasilia.
A key sticking point had been the delay by a congressional commission passing a bill about organizing the World Cup, accepting several demands by FIFA and giving it financial and legal guarantees in controlling the event.
The bill still must go through both chambers of Congress before reaching Rousseff. But it was a big victory for FIFA and the government, which was under pressure from local critics who say soccer’s governing body has been granted too much power.
Valcke’s comments infuriated many Brazilians, but there were those who didn’t think he was too far off. Former Brazilian star Ronaldo, a member of the local organizing committee, agreed with him that the preparations are running late. Romario, another former star turned congressman, concurred.
“It was unfortunate but it doesn’t mean he was wrong,’’ Ronaldo said. “Brazil promised to deliver the World Cup bill, promised to deliver the infrastructure projects, but there is still a lot that hasn’t been done.’’