FIFA apologise to Brazil to defuse WC row
13:45 AEST Wed Mar 7 2012
Football's governing body FIFA apologised to Brazil on 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 on Friday when he suggested the Brazilian organisers 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 the world's sixth largest economy - perceived as an affront.
"Both as FIFA president and personally, I would like to apologise to all those - above all the Brazilian government and President Dilma Rousseff - who feel that their honour and pride has been injured," he said in a letter sent to Rebelo.
"We have a common goal - the organisation 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 on 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 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 organisation's revenues from the games.
The bill would also authorise 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 on Wednesday.