By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke was in Brazil last week to inspect the nation’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup. The Frenchman spent two days in Rio de Janeiro to speak to the city’s associated press about his impressions, as well as outlining FIFA’s plans for the tournament in two and a half years’ time.
Speaking exclusively to the Foreign Press Association at the Caesar Park Hotel in Ipanema, Valcke confirmed that Rio would only see the Brazilian national team in one World Cup match, the final. Prior to FIFA’s visit, over 2,000 indignant Cariocas had staged a protest in the city center against the World Cup calendar, which has subsequently fallen on deaf ears.
Valcke said: “It took months to build the calendar. It cannot be changed at the drop of a hat; we have to take into account the 32 teams and the wishes of each of the twelve cities.”
But the secretary did confirm that the Maracanã Stadium would host the final of the Confederations Cup in 2013. The Confederations Cup is a tournament held one year prior to the World Cup and is looked upon almost as a dress rehearsal to see if the nation is ready or not to host sport’s most prestigious prize.
The real worry remains the state of Brazil’s airports. It is no secret that many are below the required standard and five years on from being awarded the World Cup, the majority remain unprepared for the tourism boom that will coincide with the tournament.
As Valcke explained, airports will need to be able to deal with a sudden influx of around 50,000 people within a 24 hour period. FIFA have estimated that on top of fans traveling around the country, up to 2,000 journalists and a further 1,000 FIFA employees will be jetting in and out of the twelve host cities on a regular basis and the turnaround must be rapid.
The main problem lies in the fact that, Rio, São Paulo and Brasília aside, the nine other cities are not used to handling such large numbers in such a short period of time.
Despite the vast size of the country, Brazil still only receives around five million tourists a year and the concern remains that a boost in numbers so suddenly will not be dealt with competently or efficiently. Indeed, problems in the north-eastern city of Natal are so grave consideration is being given to the idea of dropping it as a host city.
But while airport improvement remains an anxiety, all stadium renovations, with the exception of Natal, are said to be running relatively smoothly.
Present was a delegation of FIFA executives featuring Secretary General Jerome Valcke, joined by the Brazilian Minister of Sport Aldo Rebelo. Brazil’s ex-Minister for Sport, Orlando Silva, announced his resignation in October in the wake of corruption allegations.
Speaking afterwards, Valcke stressed: “It was a very good meeting, an excellent way to start 2012, which is a key year in the organization of the FIFA World Cup. It was very important to have the minister here, and I’d like to point out once again that relations between FIFA and the federal government have always been excellent. I’m very pleased that we’re walking side by side with them and in the right direction.”