Confederations Cup not in danger, says Fifa

SIMON HAYDON
Last updated 02:55 22/06/2013

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Fifa has no plans to cancel the Confederations Cup in Brazil despite violent anti-government protests across the country, the governing body said today.

An estimated 1 million protesters took to the streets in more than 80 cities on Thursday night in the biggest show of anger yet against the government, which is being accused of corruption, high prices and a lack of investment in public services.

"At no stage, I repeat at no stage, has Fifa, the Local Organizing Committee, nor the federal government discussed or considered canceling the Confederations Cup, said Fifa spokesman Pekka Odriozola.

He told a briefing that the eight teams involved in the tournament were being kept updated about the security situation in Brazil. "We have not received any request to leave from any teams," he said. He rejected a rumor that the Italian team had asked to leave as "absurd."

Italian football federation vice president Demetrio Albertini, who is leading the team's Confederations Cup delegation, told Italy's ANSA news agency: "We have never even contemplated withdrawing from the Confederations Cup."

"That is completely made up. We are upset about what is happening here in Brazil but our security is guaranteed with great professionalism and we're not worried."

Local Organizing Committee spokesman Saint-Clair Milesi said an empty bus carrying Fifa logos had been one of several parked vehicles attacked with stones during protests in the coastal city of Salvador on Thursday. Brazil is due to play Italy there tomorrow.

"We support and we acknowledge the right to free speech and the right to demonstrate peacefully," Fifa's Odriozola said. "We condemn any form of violence."

The next games are due to take place tomorrow, when Brazil play Italy and Japan play Mexico in Belo Horizonte. Both cities have seen violent protests in recent days.

Despite a heavy police presence, all eight games so far have been played in a party atmosphere with large crowds and no trouble.

Brazil awoke Friday to city centers still smoldering after a night that shocked the nation: 1 million anti-government protesters took to the streets in scores of cities, with clusters battling police and destroying swaths of storefronts and government buildings.

President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting about the protest with top Cabinet members Friday, after a largely silent and much criticized response to some of the biggest demonstrations seen in this 192 million-person country in decades.

There were growing calls on social media and in mass emails for a general strike next week. If it materializes, the action could bring in unions and other organized groups to what has so far been an amorphous explosion of discontent over everything from high crime to poor education.

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Such a strike could throw the Confederations Cup into chaos. The tournament is due to continue until June 30.

The worst confrontations unfolded late into the night in Rio de Janeiro, where more than 300,000 people protested in the city which is hosting key Confederations Cup games.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during battles through the streets, but a heavy blanket of security was thrown over the Maracana Stadium, where Spain played Tahiti and no problems were reported there.

Odriozola said Fifa would continue to monitor the disturbances in Brazil, but added it had full confidence in security arrangements.

The Confederations Cup serves as a test event for the 2014 World Cup, in which 32 teams will be playing in the sport's showcase tournament.

Odriozola said the staging of next year's World Cup, one of the world's most prestigious sporting events, had not been discussed. He said lessons from the Confederations Cup would be analyzed after this year's tournament.

Mass protests have been rare in recent years in Brazil, a country of 190 million people, but an outpouring of public anger has been mushrooming over the last week.

What started as demonstrations against increases in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have galvanized Brazilians to take their grievances to the streets, and led to a violent police crackdown.

Some protesters have denounced the billions of public dollars spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The government is projecting that US$13.3 billion will be spent on stadiums, airport renovations and other projects for the World Cup, with an estimated US$3.5 billion on venues.

"We want hospitals and schools in Fifa standards," read one banner outside the Maracana Stadium in Rio on Thursday ahead of Spain's match against Tahiti.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter has urged protesters not to "use football to make their demands heard."

Blatter surprised the Brazilian government by unexpectedly leaving Brazil this week to go to Turkey for the under-20s World Cup. He is due back in Brazil on June 25 for the semifinals and final of the Confederations Cup.

Fifa officials said today they were unaware that two regional governors had organized dinners with Blatter before he left for Turkey and had not received any notification they had been canceled.

- AP

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