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.”

Valcke also said that ”things are not working in Brazil” and

”not a lot is moving” with stadium building and infrastructure

renovation.

FIFA inspectors saw some of the problems close up Wednesday when

they visited Beira-Rio stadium, which is expected to host five

World Cup matches.

The inspectors found an empty construction site at the venue in

southern Brazil because a lack of financial guarantees to renovate

the stadium halted work eight months ago. Local officials told FIFA

the problem is expected to be solved by next week, but if the

indecision continues much longer Porto Alegre may have to rush to

find a new venue to avoid being dropped as a host city.

”We have total confidence that the stadium will be delivered on

schedule on Dec. 31, 2013,” said Ricardo Trade, an executive

director at the local organizing committee. ”Porto Alegre is at

the same stage as other cities.”

The Brazilian government guarantees that construction in most

stadiums is on track, but acknowledges there are delays in Cuiaba

and the jungle city of Manaus, where less than 40 percent of the

work has been completed.

Rebelo also said that more than 40 of the 51 infrastructure

projects planned for the World Cup in the 12 host cities will be

completed in 2013, but it’s clear many won’t be ready in time for

the Confederations Cup.

”The minister is already being more pro-active in his

management of the work needed for the World Cup,” said Jose

Roberto Bernasconi, president of a Brazilian association of

architectural and consulting engineering companies.

”It seems he is fully dedicating himself to making sure the

local governments pick up the pace where needed. Some projects are

not being conducted at the most adequate pace. Some will be ready

in time but some won’t.”

It remains unclear if the northeastern cities of Recife and

Salvador will be ready in time to host the Confederations Cup. FIFA

will decide in June whether they will join Rio de Janeiro,

Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza for the tournament.

The FIFA inspectors are making comprehensive visits to six host

cities this week, checking on areas dealing with traffic, security,

fan management, commercial partners, marketing, hospitality and

media. Last year, the inspection team visited the other six cities.

The FIFA team travels to Cuiaba on Friday, Manaus on Saturday and

Natal on Monday.

”We should and must work together,” Blatter said in his letter

of apology. ”We have the common goal to organize an extraordinary

World Cup in the land of football.”

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