FIFA Says It Won’t Hide Amid Brazil World Cup Protest Threat

The threat of mass public protests returning to Brazil’s streets during soccer’s World Cup this year won’t push the sport’s governing body into hiding, FIFA’s director of security said.

Brazil’s biggest protests in a generation erupted last June during the Confederations Cup, a warm-up event for the World Cup, which has become a totem for opposition groups. They’ve seized on the event to complain about a range of issues including the amount of money being spent on sports in a country with poor health and education funding.

Protests initially sparked by a rise in bus fares have continued sporadically since then, with demonstrators brandishing anti-FIFA insignia and chanting against the Zurich-based organization. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets near all the Confederations Cup venues.

“FIFA is not feeling it’s the target,” FIFA’s security head Ralf Mutschke told a news conference in Florianopolis, Brazil, yesterday after a meeting with officials from the 32 competing nations. “We are not hiding ourselves and our symbols. We are proud to be here and to celebrate the World Cup.”

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said this week that some plans are being rejigged as a result of the threat of the protests. They include changing the location of the “Fan Fest,” a purpose-built World Cup screening area, in the capital Brasilia, which saw some of the worst violence last June. In all, six people were killed during protests around the Confederations Cup, and some FIFA vehicles were pelted with stones. The city of Recife, one of 12 World Cup hosts, has said it won’t pay to stage a Fan Fest.

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“Following what has happened last June with all the demonstrations, and for security issues, we are always open to move from the first location to another location which is safer for security,” Valcke said.

Some sponsors reduced their visibility during the Confederations Cup, while others were targeted by protesters. Coca-Cola Co. covered up a building featuring an oversize bottle of the soft drink situated across the road from Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium -- where the July 13 World Cup final will be played -- with black plastic.

A car dealership selling vehicles produced by Kia Motors Corp., part-owned by FIFA sponsor Hyundai Motor Co., was set afire in Belo Horizonte. Sony Corp. said it took action to avoid its corporate guests being caught out in the protests.

Osama Miura, president of Sony’s Brazil unit, said in a December interview that plans will be drawn up should the demonstrations happen during the World Cup.

“If they do we will create some barriers from them,” he said.

Groups such as an anarchist movement known locally as the Black Bloc have already said they plan mass disruption during the tournament, which starts June 12.

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