GENEVA (AP) — FIFA President Sepp Blatter has criticized Brazil's slow preparations for the World Cup, saying the South American nation is further behind than any other country has been during his time with the organization.
Brazil has completed only six of the 12 World Cup stadiums even though FIFA had set the end of 2013 as the deadline. "Brazil has just realized what it means to organize a World Cup," Blatter said in an interview with Swiss newspaper 24 Heures. "They started a lot too late. It is the country which is the furthest behind since I've been at FIFA and moreover, it's the only one that had so much time — seven years — to prepare itself."
Six of the stadiums were ready for last year's Confederations Cup. One of the remaining six was symbolically delivered on New Year's Eve, although it won't be fully ready until the end of the month. Delays have included financial problems, worker safety issues and construction-site accidents. Three construction workers died at stadiums late last year.
"The information arriving at the Ministry of Sports, information sent by the authorities in the host cities, and details gathered by the minister himself — who visits the sites every three months — shows that the country will be ready on time," Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said. "Brazil has worked to prepare the World Cup since it was chosen to host the tournament."
Blatter said he also believes there will be more of the protests which marred the Confederations Cup but does not feel it will impact too much on the World Cup. "I'm an optimist, not someone who worries," the 77-year-old Blatter said. "So I'm not worried. But we know that there will be more demonstrations, more protests.
"The last ones, during the Confederations Cup in this same country, stemmed from social networks. There was no goal, no real demands, but during the World Cup they will maybe be more concrete, more structured. But the football will be protected, I believe the Brazilians won't attack the football directly. Because for them, it's a religion."
At the peak of last year's protests, 1 million people took to the streets across Brazil in a single day, complaining initially of higher bus fares, corruption and poor public services, and then extending to the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Jerome Valcke, the top FIFA official in charge of the World Cup, said recently that the tournament would have "the highest level of security you can imagine."