Brazil hits back at Blatter criticism
RIO DE JANERIO -- Brazil's government defended the country as host of the 2014 World Cup on Thursday, a day after FIFA President Sepp Blatter warned that recent protests meant it might have been the wrong choice.
More than one million people took to the streets during last month's Confederations Cup -- the warm-up for the World Cup -- angry at Brazil's poor public services, contrasted with almost $14 billion spent on the World Cup.
About the same amount will be spent on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"The success of the Confederations Cup proves the correct choice of Brazil to host the World Cup," the sports ministry said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Speaking in Austria, Blatter said Wednesday if the protesters returned next year during the World Cup, FIFA would have to consider whether it made a mistake by giving the tournament to Brazil. Protests took place at all six Confederations Cup cities.
"If this happens again, we have to question whether we made the wrong decision awarding the hosting rights," Blatter told German press agency DPA.
FIFA has verified Blatter's comments were accurate.
FIFA has acknowledged it spoke with Brazilian officials after the Confederations Cup final, which closed with police and soldiers firing tear gas, shock bombs and rubber bullets to keep thousands of protesters away from the Maracana stadium. Brazil defeated Spain 3-0 in the final with tear gas wafting through the stadium during the first half.
Blatter said he would discuss the protests when he meets Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in September.
"We didn't do a political debriefing, but we did emphasize the fact of this social unrest being there for the entire duration of the Confederations Cup," he said. "The government is now aware that next year the World Cup shouldn't be disturbed.
"To me, these protests were like alarm bells for the government, the senate, the parliament. They should work on it so that this is not going to happen again. Though protests, if peaceful, are part of democracy and therefore have to be accepted ... we are convinced the government, and especially the president, will find the words and the actions to prevent a repeat. They have a year to do so."
In its statement, the sports ministry also emphasized the freedom to protest.
"As for the demonstrations, Brazil is a democratic country that guarantees its citizens full freedom of expression."
In April, FIFA's top administrator Jerome Valcke suggested "less democracy is sometimes better for hosting a World Cup."
Small street protests have continued in Brazil after the Confederations Cup, and security officials are bracing for the arrival Monday in Rio de Janeiro of Pope Francis for the Catholic Church's youth festival.