FIFA President Sepp Blatter defended his decision to temporarily leave Brazil during the Confederations Cup for an international youth soccer tournament in Turkey, saying he was fulfilling his responsibilities.
Blatter surprised Brazilian officials by leaving after the opening games of the eight-team Confederations Cup, a test event for next year’s World Cup. Blatter, who returned for this week’s semifinals after attending the opening of the Under-20 World Cup, left as world soccer governing body FIFA was among the targets of Brazil’s biggest public protests in two decades.
Blatter and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff were jeered at the opening game of the tournament on June 15. Protestors, whose complaints have included criticism about the amount of money Brazil is spending on sporting events, have clashed since then with police in all six cities that have hosted games.
“In no way could it be said that I escaped responsibility, on the contrary I accepted two responsibilities at the same time,” Blatter said yesterday at a news conference. “In Turkey we had same unrest that we had here. Therefore it was duty and responsibility of the FIFA president to be present at the opening together with the president of Turkey.”
Protests that started against destruction of an Istanbul park in May have swelled into broader criticism against the Turkish government. Brazil’s social unrest began as a revolt against higher bus fares.
Brazil’s sports ministry said it had expected Blatter to remain in the country for the entire tournament and was surprised when FIFA announced Blatter would be leaving for Turkey. The FIFA president had been expected to accompany Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo to games in all six host cities.
As recently as two days ago, police fired tear gas to disperse protestors who marched on the semifinal match between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza.
Blatter said he didn’t know if Rousseff would be attending tomorrow’s final between Spain and Brazil at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, when further demonstrations are planned.
“I am not a prophet so I can’t say if she’s there or not there,” he said. “I have not yet been confirmed yes or no but I would be happy if she came.”
At the 2009 Confederations Cup in Johannesburg, Blatter was joined by South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma. The two men presented the winner’s trophy to Brazil.
FIFA has been accused by critics of not doing enough to leave a legacy in Brazil after its $5 billion World Cup finishes in July 2014. In response to a question yesterday, Blatter said the governing body would create a legacy similar to the $100 million fund it left for 2010 World Cup host South Africa.
“An amount like that or even higher will be possible here,” he said.