x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Fifa’s turn to be confident about Brazil’s World Cup

Fifa president predicts World Cup 'will be a celebration' even as a transit strike paralyses Sao Paulo

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, had previously been critical of Brazil’s World Cup organisers. Osama Faisal / AP Photo
Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, had previously been critical of Brazil’s World Cup organisers. Osama Faisal / AP Photo

SAO PAULO // Like a goalkeeper taking a penalty, there appears to have been a role reversal in recent weeks when it comes to the organising parties of the World Cup.

For the past several years, Fifa have been critical of Brazil’s preparation for this summer’s showpiece, while the local organising committee for ever assured us things would be fine – delayed, yes, but fine.

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Now, with less than a week to go until the month-long event kicks off, the two parties appear to have switched stances.

On Thursday, Fifa president Sepp Blatter voiced confidence that Brazil would host the best World Cup in history and tensions surrounding the tournament would subside once the football gets under way. “We at Fifa, we are confident; it will be a celebration,” Blatter said. “I’m an optimist. After the tournament kicks off I think there will be a better mood.”

Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general and the man who was roundly criticised by Brazilians in 2012 for telling the host country they needed a boot to the posterior, played down the construction work surrounding the Arena Corinthians, which will host the tournament curtain-raiser between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.

“It looks like there is quite a lot of work going on, but I would say that is quite normal,” Valcke said. “And especially when the stadiums came a little late. We are not afraid about the next days.”

Fifa officially took control of Brazil’s 12 stadiums last week and have been rapidly assembling signage and ticketing booths while the construction continues around the arenas. Valcke said the outstanding issues are minor, including some seats requiring installation and generators not yet being fully fitted.

“There is no risk for the first week although it is true that the first week is the most challenging,” Valcke added. “We will look at what is happening in these first games, but the feeling we have at Fifa is we are in control.”

The message from Brazil’s sports minister was less assured. Millions of Sao Paulo commuters were affected by an indefinite metro strike on Thursday when workers disrupted three of the city’s five train lines. At Itaquera, the station closest to Arena Corinthians, passengers broke the doors of a stationary train and were seen walking on the track.

The trouble continued Friday, with police firing tear gas and swinging batons to beat back picketing strikers as commuters attempted to enter a major metro station.

With more people using their cars, bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched for up to 209 kilometres during the morning commute, the worst congestion so far this year and the third-worst recorded in the sprawling city of 20 million people. Another strike by 75 per cent of Sao Paulo’s traffic police exacerbated transport problems.

“When we are talking about an event as big as the World Cup, there is no way you can award a diploma of preparedness, put it up on the wall and say ‘I am prepared’,” said Aldo Rebelo of the local organising committee. “You have to do look at things on a day by day basis.

“Public security, transportation, health services; everything has to work and be permanently operational. I am not going to put a diploma on the wall of my office and say I am well prepared. We have worked a lot so that things can be better than is expected, but we have to carry on with the energy and attention that is necessary to run well all of the time.”

Meanwhile, Blatter and Valcke both refused to discuss recent newspaper allegations claiming Qatar illegally paid for the right to host the World Cup in 2022. “You have to accept we cannot say anything about this,” a Fifa spokesman said. “It is all speculation.”

An investigation into Fifa corruption has been ongoing for more than a year and, led by former US attorney Michael Garcia, will be completed this Monday. Garcia and the Fifa Ethics Committee will then submit the report six weeks later.

Blatter added: “Whatever has been written is now with the Fifa Ethics Committee. The only thing I can say to the Qataris is that in March of this year the Executive Committee said we do not put the event in Qatar in doubt. We await the results [of Garcia’s investigation] and see what happens. I am not a prophet.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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