FORTALEZA, Brazil (Reuters) - For millions of football fans around the world how Neymar and Fernando Torres perform at the Confederations Cup is of far more interest than Brazilians protesting over social issues.
While locals demonstrate over the cost of stadiums for next year’s World Cup, government corruption, lack of education, public health issues and transport price hikes, most followers of the beautiful game only care about what happens on the pitch.
“I feel really sorry for the Brazilian people who are clearly angry,” said one post on an internet message board from New Zealand. “Fine if they used the Confeds Cup as a catalyst to air their grievances but I will be even more angry if they stop the World Cup from being in Brazil next year.”
The finals are unlikely to be taken away from Brazil and, despite local media reports that the Confederations Cup - the World Cup warm-up test tournament - was going to be halted, FIFA said on Thursday the idea had not been considered for a moment.
Barring some unforeseen cataclysmic event, Brazil will host the World Cup next year as planned and players like local favoruite Neymar and Spain striker Torres will be the focus.
In an impassioned speech on Friday, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff addressed the protestors’ grievances but also pledged her government’s support for next year’s finals.
”With regard to the World Cup, I want to clarify that the federal money spent on the stadiums is in the form of financing that will be duly repaid by the companies and (state) governments that are exploiting these stadiums.
”Brazil is the only country to have participated in every World Cup and is five-times world champion and has always been well received everywhere.
”We must give our friends the same generous welcome we have received from them - with respect, love and joy. This is how we must treat our guests. Football and sport are symbols of peace and peaceful coexistence among peoples.
“Brazil deserves to, and will, host a great World Cup.”
Which is where soccer’s governing body FIFA comes in.
FIFA owns the World Cup and entrusts organisation of the tournament to a Local Organising Committee (LOC) which makes sure stadiums are safe and ready on time, ticketing works and the necessary infrastructure is in place.
However, the relationship between FIFA and the Brazilian LOC has been troubled.
Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the now discredited Ricardo Teixeira, who was head of the LOC and the Brazilian FA (CBF), quit his roles with FIFA’s executive committee and as head of the CBF in May 2012 after years of denying corruption allegations.
Two months later a Swiss prosecutor’s court named him, and his former father-in-law and former FIFA president, Brazilian Joao Havelange, as having received more than $40 million in bribes from FIFA’s former marketing partners, the bankrupt ISL.
In all of its World Cup bidding documentation FIFA says eight stadiums are required to host a 32-team World Cup but Teixeira insisted that 12 were built or renovated and are now being used.
Some venues, like Brasilia, Manaus and Cuiaba, do not even have top-ranking teams and their stadiums could become white elephants, a point directly linked to the demonstrators’ grievances this week that money has been wasted on the World Cup.
Teixeira formed a close working friendship and relationship with FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, whose responsibility is to deliver a safe, cost-effective and workable finals.
In March last year, with Teixeira out of the planning process on “health grounds” in Miami, Valcke delivered his famous “Brazil need a kick up the backside” remark to journalists in Bagshot, England, expressing his concerns over progress on stadiums, transport infrastructure and hotels.
He was shunned by the Brazilian authorities for months before relationships were gingerly restored.
Now, in the wake of this week’s protests, remarks he made this April look particularly ill-judged.
Speaking at a tournament symposium in Zurich, Valcke said: “I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup.”
He explained it was easier to deal with a country like Russia, the 2018 World Cup hosts, in which the head of state can decide everything, rather than Brazil “where the political structure is divided into three levels - federal, state and city.”
As one FIFA insider close to the story told Reuters on Saturday: “Well Brazil has certainly showed us it is democracy this week okay. This has made life very uncomfortable for FIFA, but they will all find a solution and the World Cup will go ahead. It always does in the end.”
Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris