FIFA President Blatter’s Brazil Exit Surprises Hosts

Brazil’s Sports Ministry said it was taken by surprise at the news that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is leaving the country today to attend a soccer tournament in Turkey.

Blatter, who has been in Brazil for soccer’s Confederations Cup, is heading to Europe to attend the opening of the Under-20 World Cup, FIFA said in a statement. Blatter’s exit comes as protests continue in cities across Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup championship. About 25,000 marchers rallied outside a stadium in Fortaleza where Brazil is playing Mexico today, according to the Globo network’s website. Protesters have criticized the 30 billion reais ($13.6 billion) being spent on projects linked to next year’s World Cup.

The Sports Ministry said it had expected Blatter to remain in the country for the entire tournament and was surprised by FIFA’s announcement that its president was flying to Turkey, said spokesman Paulo Rossi. The FIFA president had been expected to accompany Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo to games in all six host cities. Blatter has attended games in Brasilia, Rio and Belo Horizonte since the tournament started.

“We learned the news just like you, from a press release saying that he was going to Turkey because of the Under 20 World Cup,” Rossi said by phone. “But he’s coming back next week so we are going to the semi-finals.”

A FIFA official said by phone that Blatter’s schedule for the Confederations Cup wasn’t fixed and that he had attended the opening of previous Under 20 events. The official asked not to be identified in accordance with internal policy.

Test Event

The Confederations Cup, a test event for the World Cup, has been played against the backdrop of nationwide protests over everything from rising bus fares to government corruption and spending on the World Cup. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and Blatter were jeered by fans filling the stadium at the opening game on June 12 in Brasilia.

Police today fired tear gas and used mace to disperse a crowd that had broken through a barrier around the stadium in Fortaleza, in northeast Brazil. Some of the protesters responded by throwing stones.

Blatter, in an interview two days ago, said “people are using the platform of football and the international media presence to make certain demonstrations.”

Brazilian soccer legend Pele, the only player to be a part of three World Cup victories, urged his compatriots to put aside their political disputes and support the national squad.

“Let’s forget all this confusion that is happening in Brazil, all those protests, and let’s see the national team as our country, our blood,” Pele said.

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