Jerome Valcke, the top official responsible for soccer’s World Cup next year, says he’s confident Brazil’s security can protect the tournament amid increasing concerns over violent protests in the country.
Valcke, general secretary of soccer’s governing body, gave his backing to Brazil’s police just three days after they used rubber bullets, tear gas and percussion grenades in the country’s two largest cities -- Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo -- after planned demonstrations by striking teachers turned violent.
Mass demonstrations, which had been rare in Brazil, have continued since June when a record number of people took to the streets to complain about a issues ranging from a lack of decent health and education provision to political corruption and public spending on sporting events. The start of the protests, Brazil’s biggest in more than two decades, coincided with the Confederations Cup, a warm-up event for the World Cup.
“What has happened at the Confederations Cup and the way the authorities reacted was definitely very good and gave a lot of confidence to all the teams, commercial partners and all of us on the capacity to be able to control the situation,” Valcke told reporters in Rio, where police and demonstrators clashed on Oct. 7. Rio will host the World Cup final on July 13, a month after the tournament starts in Sao Paulo.
The use of tear gas and rubber bullets has become common in Rio and provided a backdrop to the Confederations Cup, which was played in six cities. Brazil deployed 11,000 security personnel to protect the final of that event on June 30 when tear gas wafted into Rio’s Maracana stadium as Brazil was on its way to a 3-0 victory over world champion Spain.
The next protest in Rio is planned for Oct. 15. Last week a movie premiere at one of the city’s main theaters was canceled at the last minute when demonstrators ran into the venue to seek cover as police and protesters clashed nearby. Valcke saw protests first hand when a group of about 50 demonstrators stormed a World Cup stadium in western Brazil as he was visiting.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said he believed the world’s most-watched sports event would be unaffected. “I think Brazil can have a World Cup in a peaceful environment,” said Rebelo, who sat alongside Valcke. “I don’t see this pessimistically.”
Valcke’s latest visit to Brazil coincided with FIFA’s announcement that more than 6 million requests for tickets had been made during the first sales phase. About 30 percent of those came from outside Brazil. Strong international demand suggested foreign visitors were not put off by events in the country, the FIFA executive said.
While ticket sales are good Valcke raised concerns that the state of the turf in some of the stadiums, particularly in Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium, which at $750 million is the most expensive of 12 stadiums being built or refurbished for the monthlong World Cup. Valcke warned stadium operators against hosting events like concerts that could damage the playing areas.
“The quality of the pitch in Brasilia is not what you are expecting,” he said. “We have more than enough time to make sure the pitches will be good.”
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