Tensions between FIFA and Brazil Escalate as World Cup 2014 Approaches

Public fighting between FIFA and World Cup 2014 host country Brazil continues, threatening to undermine Brazilian preparations for the games.

The Brazilian government has yet to pass a key bill regulating the World Cup, and FIFA still has to approve two venues for next year's Confederations Cup.

In addition, it remains unclear how FIFA will react to Brazil's request to have FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke replaced as the person responsible for working with the government in the country's preparations.

Brazil's sports ministry said Sunday that it will deliver a letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Monday saying it will not deal with Valcke anymore. The request comes after Valcke sent a blunt message Friday, telling the country to get moving: "You have to push yourself," emphasizing the point with a vulgarity.

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If Blatter chooses not to accept Brazil's request, the controversy could grow further. Blatter has no official plans to visit Brazil, but he was expected to travel to the country once Congress approves the bill regulating the World Cup.

Valcke said he was still going to Brazil as scheduled in about a week, but Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said the country would not welcome him.

Rebelo said Brazil still expects to work closely with FIFA to make the country host a great World Cup, but he said the government will not be dealing with Valcke anymore.

The dispute pits two heavyweights against each other. On one side is a country emerging as a world power economically and politically, trying to show it deserves to be respected. On the other, perhaps the world's most powerful sports organization, with more than 200 national associations.

Rebelo said the country was "chosen" to host the tournament and did not impose this on FIFA, while officials from the soccer body have said Brazil has the "responsibility".

Brazil was picked as host in 2007 when it was the only bidder because of FIFA's continental rotation system at the time.

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The local World Cup organizing committee is stepping in, trying to make both sides happy in an effort to keep the dispute from escalating. Organizers have said 2012 is a key year for the country's preparations.

Committee President Ricardo Teixeira, also the president of the Brazilian soccer federation, issued a statement late Saturday defending Brazil's sovereignty but also saying he understands FIFA's concerns, calling them "legitimate and natural."

"But the entity can rest assured that Brazil and its people have the competence and the dignity to organize an impeccable and unforgettable World Cup," Teixeira said.

Teixeira, however, also urged more respect for Brazil.

"In every democratic process the discussions have to be ample and will always take into consideration the interests of the people," he said. "Brazil doesn't have an owner, it's a solid democracy recognized worldwide. The country and its three branches of government always have to be respected."

Teixeira himself has complicated Brazil's World Cup preparations because of allegations against him locally and abroad. He has always denied wrongdoing and has never been convicted, but the accusations have prompted calls for his resignation, something that could end up hampering the country's World Cup organization. Teixeira recently reiterated he will remain head of Brazilian soccer.

The biggest matter between the Brazilian government and FIFA concerns the bill regulating the World Cup. FIFA wants the bill approved because it gives the entity the legal guarantees for organizing the World Cup and helps expedite the tournament preparations.

The proposed law is expected to be approved in a congressional commission Tuesday. But after Valcke's comments Friday, the resistance from opposition congressmen was expected to increase significantly. Government officials had said they had enough congressional support to approve the bill before the dispute with FIFA intensified.

Voting on the bill was delayed several times because the government has been under criticism for giving FIFA too much power and few responsibilities. Congressmen remained divided on a few issues, including the sale of alcoholic beverages inside stadiums, something now against the law in Brazil. FIFA demands the country change its law, with Budweiser a major World Cup sponsor.

Valcke, who said he was frustrated with the "endless discussions" in Brazil's Congress, said the country agreed to such demands when it was picked as host.

Valcke also said Friday that "things are not working in Brazil" and that "not a lot is moving" with just two years left before the World Cup and barely a year before the Confederations Cup. Rebelo said Valcke's comments were "inappropriate" and "offensive."

Valcke later said he was surprised by Brazil's reaction to his criticism, calling it "puerile."

The dispute may also affect the Confederations Cup venues.

FIFA has already approved Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro to host matches in the warmup competition, but Brazil also wants to include Recife and Salvador. FIFA representatives are expected to inspect six of the 12 World Cup host cities next week. A decision on the Confederations Cup venues is expected this year.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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