SAO PAULO – Brazil and FIFA have put their rift behind them. Now it's time to get to work.
A public dispute brought uncertainty over the country's preparations, but both sides are moving forward after apologies from FIFA were accepted by the Brazilian government Thursday and approval of a key bill in Brazil's Congress.
With two years to go until the World Cup and just more than a year before the Confederations Cup, infrastructure remains a concern along with stadium construction problems in some cities.
FIFA inspectors are visiting host cities, checking on progress and working closely with local governments. The team of nearly 40 people from FIFA and the local organizing committee were in the southern city of Curitiba on Thursday.
Things looked bleak only a few days ago, with questions raised about whether Brazil would be able to host soccer's premier event. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke sent a blunt, vulgar message to Brazil on Friday about preparations.
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo called the comment "unacceptable, offensive and inappropriate" and told FIFA the government would not deal with Valcke anymore. Valcke apologized Monday, as did FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Sports Ministry said in an emailed statement that Rebelo had sent letters to Blatter and Valcke indicating he had accepted their apologies. The statement said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would meet with Blatter, but didn't indicate when.
The letters didn't explicitly say Brazil was withdrawing its request to no longer work with Valcke. The ministry said the matter would likely be resolved after Rousseff met with Blatter, probably next week in Brasilia.
A key sticking point had been the delay by a congressional commission passing a bill about organizing the World Cup, accepting several demands by FIFA and giving it financial and legal guarantees in controlling the event.
The bill still must go through both chambers of Congress before reaching Rousseff. But it was a big victory for FIFA and the government, which was under pressure from local critics who say soccer's governing body has been granted too much power.
Valcke's comments infuriated many Brazilians, but there were those who didn't think he was too far off. Former Brazilian star Ronaldo, a member of the local organizing committee, agreed with him that the preparations are running late. Romario, another former star turned congressman, concurred.
"It was unfortunate but it doesn't mean he was wrong," Ronaldo said. "Brazil promised to deliver the World Cup bill, promised to deliver the infrastructure projects, but there is still a lot that hasn't been done."
Valcke also said that "things are not working in Brazil" and "not a lot is moving" with stadium building and infrastructure renovation.
FIFA inspectors saw some of the problems close up Wednesday when they visited Beira-Rio stadium, which is expected to host five World Cup matches.
The inspectors found an empty construction site at the venue in southern Brazil because a lack of financial guarantees to renovate the stadium halted work eight months ago. Local officials told FIFA the problem is expected to be solved by next week, but if the indecision continues much longer Porto Alegre may have to rush to find a new venue to avoid being dropped as a host city.
"We have total confidence that the stadium will be delivered on schedule on Dec. 31, 2013," said Ricardo Trade, an executive director at the local organizing committee. "Porto Alegre is at the same stage as other cities."
The Brazilian government guarantees that construction in most stadiums is on track, but acknowledges there are delays in Cuiaba and the jungle city of Manaus, where less than 40 percent of the work has been completed.
Rebelo also said that more than 40 of the 51 infrastructure projects planned for the World Cup in the 12 host cities will be completed in 2013, but it's clear many won't be ready in time for the Confederations Cup.
"The minister is already being more pro-active in his management of the work needed for the World Cup," said Jose Roberto Bernasconi, president of a Brazilian association of architectural and consulting engineering companies.
"It seems he is fully dedicating himself to making sure the local governments pick up the pace where needed. Some projects are not being conducted at the most adequate pace. Some will be ready in time but some won't."
It remains unclear if the northeastern cities of Recife and Salvador will be ready in time to host the Confederations Cup. FIFA will decide in June whether they will join Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza for the tournament.
The FIFA inspectors are making comprehensive visits to six host cities this week, checking on areas dealing with traffic, security, fan management, commercial partners, marketing, hospitality and media. Last year, the inspection team visited the other six cities. The FIFA team travels to Cuiaba on Friday, Manaus on Saturday and Natal on Monday.
"We should and must work together," Blatter said in his letter of apology. "We have the common goal to organize an extraordinary World Cup in the land of football."
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