RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — FIFA is concerned about recent violence in Brazil less than two months before it hosts the World Cup but remains confident the country will stage "the biggest party on Earth," FIFA marketing director Thierry Weil said Thursday.
The latest outburst began on Tuesday when residents of a Rio de Janeiro slum rioted following the killing of a popular local figure, a death they blamed on police.
Angry residents set fires and showered homemade explosives and bottles onto a busy avenue in Rio's main tourist zone.
Weil told reporters in Rio that while the images being broadcast around the world of the riots are not pretty, "we strongly believe in the country, in the cities, in the government and their advance of security."
"From our commercial partners, which will bring a lot of guests to Brazil, for sure there are lots of discussions on the riots, whether it will happen again like it did in the Confederations Cup, so there are lots of questions," he said. "But I can guarantee that no one has retracted from bringing guests because everybody strongly believes that this will be the biggest party on Earth."
Police in Brazil began an ambitious program in 2008 to drive gangs from Rio's slums as part of security push ahead of the World Cup that kicks off in June.
The increased police presence has brought security improvements and lowered the kinds of shootouts that were once common in many of the slums. But many residents complain about heavy-handed police tactics.
More than 20 officers who patrolled Rio's largest slum now face charges for the torture, disappearance and presumed death of a slum dweller during a police interrogation last year.
Many slum-dwellers also say the state has been slow to follow up on promises of improved education and health programs while it has squandered billions trying to prepare for the World Cup.
FIFA has sold about 2.7 million tickets for the tournament's 64 games so far, Weil said, adding that some 200,000 are still available for the general public.
But FIFA still can't say exactly how many tickets it will make available because it lacks information on the number of seats in the stadiums following repeated construction delays ahead of the tournament. A final figure could come by mid-May, and sales for games, including the opening match and the final, might be available right after that. For now, FIFA has held back seven percent of tickets as a safety cushion.
The World Cup was to have served as a stepping-out party announcing Brazil's arrival on the global stage. But chronic construction delays have turned into an embarrassment for many, stoking public anger over poor public services, the high cost of living and corruption scandals. Many Brazilians say that even if their beloved team lifts the World Cup trophy on July 13, the country has already lost.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao