Brasilia – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has defended her government’s preparations to host the World Cup, the target of criticism over chronic delays and soaring costs.
As Brazil rushes to finish stadiums and deal with a wave of protests ahead of the June 12 kick-off, Rousseff partly blamed Fifa for the spiralling World Cup bill but said the money spent would leave a positive legacy.
The leftist leader, who is seeking reelection in October, said Fifa had assured Brazil that host stadiums would be built with private money.
But the government eventually realised private-sector investment would not even cover “half a stadium” and provided most of the financing itself, Rousseff told journalists at a dinner on Tuesday at the presidential residence in Brasilia.
She said she would advise future host countries to “be very careful about the responsibility matrix” they sign with Fifa.
But she insisted that the vast majority of public spending related to the tournament was “for Brazil” over the long-term and not limited to the World Cup.
She said hosting the tournament had spurred many cities to undertake badly needed public transport projects – though she acknowledged many of them would not be completed before the World Cup.
The Brazilian government has faced a wave of protests over more than $11 billion it is spending on the tournament, money critics say should have been used to address urgent needs in areas such as education, health care and transport.
A year ago, a million protesters flooded the streets during the Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal.
The protests turned violent at times, casting a shadow over the tournament and raising fears of a repeat this year.
Looking relaxed as she had dinner with journalists, Rousseff said protests would be allowed during the World Cup as long as they were peaceful and did not interfere with the event.
“We fully guarantee people’s security,” she said.
Brazil is still scrambling to finish five of the 12 host stadiums, including Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena, which will host the opening match but still has not had all its seats installed.
And organisers have shelved much of the other infrastructure they had originally promised, from roadworks to a high-speed train to subway and monorail lines.
But on the pitch, Brazil were looking ready for kick-off Tuesday, routing Panama 4-0 in a friendly.
Rousseff, 66, was clearly pleased with the win, and – touching wood and vowing to keep her fingers crossed – said she was confident in Brazil’s chances at the World Cup.
Her government meanwhile appeared to have staved off the threat of a strike by federal police during the tournament.
Recent police strikes – and the threat of more during the World Cup – have been among the government’s biggest headaches.
But federal police announced they had reached a deal for a 15.8 percent raise in exchange for a promise not to strike in the coming months.
Police in the capital Brasilia have accepted the offer, which will be put to a vote in each of Brazil’s 26 states in the coming days, the federal police union said.
Teachers in Sao Paulo also ended a 42-day strike after winning a 15.4 percent raise from May 2015, their unions said on Tuesday evening. – Sapa-AFP