Brazil’s relationship with FIFA took a turn for the worse on Saturday, with both sides escalating a war of words which could further complicate the country’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil’s sports minister criticized “unacceptable” comments by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke about the slow preparations and said the government was cutting ties with him.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said “the government can no longer have the secretary general as a representative” and called for FIFA to assign another official to work with the government.
Valcke responded by calling the move “puerile.”
Ahead of a visit to Brazil in about a week, Valcke sparked the exchange by sending a blunt message to organizers on Friday: “You have to push yourself, kick your (backside).”
Valcke said that “things are not working in Brazil” and that “not a lot is moving” with just two years left before the tournament and barely a year before the Confederations Cup.
Rebelo said the government would not accept the criticism from FIFA’s top administrator.
“We have always had a cordial attitude toward everyone from FIFA here in Brazil,” Rebelo said. “We can’t accept to hear such an offensive comment. He (Valcke) can’t say something like that about a country. It’s unacceptable.”
The president of the local organizing committee, Ricardo Teixeira, who was also the president of the Brazilian football federation, issued a statement on Saturday telling FIFA not to worry because Brazil will be able to successfully organize the World Cup.
“FIFA’s concerns regarding the preparations of any World Cup are legitimate and natural,” he said. “But the entity can rest assured that Brazil and its people have the competence and the dignity to organize an impeccable and unforgettable World Cup.”
Teixeira, who a few days ago reiterated he will remain head of Brazilian football despite rumors that he would resign amid accusations against him in Brazil and abroad, also said the Brazilian government has to be respected.
“Some matters in the organization of the World Cup may seem to advance more slowly,” he said. “But in every democratic process the discussions have to be ample and will always take in consideration the interests of the people. Brazil doesn’t have an owner, it’s a solid democracy recognized worldwide. The country and its three branches of government always have to be respected.”
Rebelo said he understands Valcke will keep his duties as FIFA secretary general and will continue to work closely with local organizers, but from now on the Brazilian government will not welcome him when he comes to the country.
“We will continue to have a relationship with FIFA and we will continue receiving them well,” Rebelo said. “We are just expressing the position of the Brazilian government (in relation to Valcke).
“His comments interfere in the relationship of understanding that we have always had between Brazil and FIFA.”
But Valcke on Saturday accused Rebelo of making excuses and ignoring the problems facing organizers.
“Why doesn’t he deal with the issue?” Valcke said at a meeting of football rule-makers in England. “If (I’m) the problem because nothing has happened over the five years ... because I made, wow, one comment saying things are not working well and I for once said exactly what is happening in Brazil — if the result is they don’t want to talk to me any more, I’m not the guy they want to work with, that’s a bit puerile.”
Rebelo had said Valcke’s comments contradict FIFA’s own evaluation of the country’s preparations after a visit in January.
“The secretary general made an evaluation that does not correspond to the facts or the reality,” Rebelo said. “We have to remember that the World Cup will be in Brazil because Brazil was chosen to host it. We didn’t impose this nor were we drawn (in a lottery) for this.”
The minister said Brazil will inform FIFA president Sepp Blatter of the decision to have Valcke replaced as the person responsible for working with the government in the country’s preparations. Rebelo said he will not suggest a replacement, however, adding that FIFA will likely make that decision.
Valcke’s comments on Friday came just a few days after a congressional commission in Brazil delayed voting on a key bill regulating the World Cup and setting the legal framework that gives FIFA the necessary guarantees to organize football’s showcase event in 2014.
Valcke said he was frustrated with the “endless discussions” in Congress about the proposed law.
The bill had already been delayed last month as congressmen remained divided on a few issues, including the sale of alcoholic beverages inside stadiums, something that currently is against the law in Brazil. FIFA demands the country changes its law as Budweiser is a major World Cup sponsor.
FIFA said Brazil agreed to its demands when it was awarded the 2014 tournament in 2007, but the proposed law has been generating controversy as critics say it gives too much power to football’s governing body.
Rebelo said the bill is likely to be approved next week, keeping the country’s preparations on track.
“The government is doing a lot to have the law approved,” Rebelo said. “We will comply with all of our commitments.”
The minister guaranteed that the country will be ready to host the World Cup. He said 42 of the 51 infrastructure projects will be delivered by 2013, and said most of the stadium construction was on schedule.
Valcke’s criticism also came ahead of next week’s visit of a team of nearly 40 people from FIFA and the local organizing committee to inspect six of the 12 host cities. The other six will host the Confederations Cup in 2013 and were inspected last year.
One of the cities visited next week will be Porto Alegre, which is in danger of being dropped as a host because its Beira-Rio Stadium had renovation work halted more than eight months ago because of a lack of financial guarantees.