Blatter apologises to Brazil

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IOL pic mar7 soccer sepp blatter Getty Images (File image) Sepp Blatter

Sao Paulo - Fifa boss Sepp Blatter sought to defuse a war of words between Fifa and Brazil on Tuesday by personally apologising for disparaging remarks made by a top official about the country's slow progress in preparing for the 2014 World Cup.

In an open letter to Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, Blatter offered an “apology to all those who had their honour and pride wounded, especially the Brazilian government and President Dilma Rousseff”.

Blatter's gesture came one day after Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke sent a similar letter to Rebelo apologising for saying Brazil's World Cup preparations were “not working” and that organisers needed “a kick up the backside”.

Valcke's remarks caused uproar in Brazil, prompting the government to notify Fifa it would no longer accept the Frenchman as the world soccer governing body's point person for the 2014 World Cup.

In his letter, Blatter asked to meet with Rousseff next week to personally discuss the standoff - and progress in Brazil's World Cup preparations - after he completes a tour to Asia.

“We waste time over conflicts,” Blatter wrote. “We must work together. We have a common goal: to organise an extraordinary World Cup in the country of football, the country of champions.”

In what appeared to be an attempt to stifle any talk that Fifa had a Plan B in place to take the World Cup away from Brazil, Blatter wrote: “Brazil deserves to host the World Cup and the whole world is anxiously waiting for that to happen.”

It was not immediately clear if Rousseff would meet with Blatter next week, when Valcke is also scheduled to visit Brazil to tour construction sites in some World Cup host cities.

Valcke, who has irked Brazilian officials in the past, claimed in his letter to Rebelo that translators misinterpreted his words in his native French. But reporters who heard his comments said he spoke in English.

Asked about Valcke's apology, Rebelo said on Tuesday that he planned to reply in writing in the coming days.

Valcke made his comments as Brazil struggles to prepare for the World Cup and its curtain raiser, the 2013 Confederations Cup. Stadium construction was slow to get started and costs have ballooned. More worryingly, vital infrastructure projects such as hotels, roads and airports are way behind schedule.

Blatter's letter was delivered just hours before a congressional committee in Brazil finally agreed on the text of a crucial bill setting legislation for the World Cup.

The bill, called the World Cup Law, will now go to a plenary session in the lower house of Congress before going to the Senate.

Lawmakers have delayed passing the bill and the government and Fifa have clashed repeatedly over whether alcohol should be sold inside stadiums and over which groups are entitled to discounted tickets. A few protesters unfurled anti-Fifa banners as the debate took place. - Reuters

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