BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff assured FIFA chief Sepp Blatter on Friday the country would be ready to host the 2014 World Cup, easing tensions over the slow pace of preparations for the finals.
“We are very happy with the outcome of this meeting. You see a smiling FIFA president,” Blatter told a news conference after holding talks with Rousseff in the capital Brasilia.
“The President ... said there is no doubt the government will implement all the guarantees that have been given to FIFA.”
Earlier this month Jerome Valcke, general secretary of soccer’s ruling body, said Brazilian officials needed a “kick up the backside” to speed up preparations.
In a meeting on Thursday night with Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, Blatter agreed to keep Valcke sidelined and said he was committed to personally leading FIFA’s dealings with Brazil, a government source who declined to be identified told Reuters.
“Only time will tell if Valcke returns” to Brazil, the source said.
Blatter’s visit came as Brazil faced growing criticism for the slow pace of preparations for the tournament.
Although most of the 12 stadiums are generally on schedule, transportation and hotel infrastructure in most of the host cities remain woefully insufficient to accommodate the huge influx of visitors expected.
The government is scrambling to upgrade airports, partnering in three cities with private airport operators who have pledged to invest heavily to build new terminals.
However, some of the airport overhauls will not be ready in time for the World Cup.
FIFA is also worried about delays in Brazil’s Congress voting on a bill outlining regulations for the tournament and the curtain-raiser, the 2013 Confederations Cup.
One of the bill’s key clauses would allow the sale of alcohol in football stadiums, something FIFA has been lobbying for on behalf of beer sponsors.
Alcohol has been banned in Brazilian stadiums since 2003 in an effort to discourage violence between rival fans.
The government, which has tense relations with Congress, appeared to withdraw support for the clause this week when its representative in the lower house said he would remove it from the bill.
A day later, though, the government backtracked and said the clause would stay in.
Rousseff assured Blatter the bill would be passed in its entirety, possibly as early as next week, the source added.
Blatter and Rousseff also agreed on Friday to meet more regularly to discuss the progress of preparations.
Brazilian soccer great Pele, the country’s World Cup ambassador, and former international striker Ronaldo were also at the meeting.
Ronaldo is a member of the local organizing committee for the tournament.
Pele offered to use his diplomatic skills to ensure relations between Brazil and FIFA do not sour again.
“I told President Dilma that from now on she shouldn’t call me minister, she could call me firefighter,” he told reporters.
“Fortunately I think that from here on we’re going to work together in harmony without crises. I‘m sure we’re going to have the best World Cup ever in Brazil.”
Earlier this week, Ricardo Teixeira quit after 23 years as head of the Brazilian Football Confederation following a string of corruption allegations.
Teixeira, who had rocky relations with Blatter, was also head of the local organizing committee for the World Cup.
His resignation added to the uncertainty surrounding Brazil’s efforts to get ready for the tournament.
Additional reporting by Jeferson Ribeiro, writing by Todd Benson, editing by Tony Jimenez