FIFA President Joseph Blatter confirmed on Tuesday that the format of this year’s World Cup opening match will be altered and that neither he, nor Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, will be making opening remarks.
“We’re going to do the ceremony in such a way so as not to have speeches,” the FIFA chief told German news agency dpa.
The opening game on 12 June between host nation Brazil and Croatia is set to be held at São Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, better known as the Itaquerão.
The decision appears to have been made to avoid a repeat of humiliating scenes at the Confederations Cup opener last year, when President Rousseff was jeered by crowds in Brasília, home to Brazil’s most expensive new stadium.
At the time, Blatter asked football fans to show respect, but the admonishment had the opposite effect and crowds booed even louder.
Commentators note that both he and South African President Jacob Zuma did give opening speeches at the first games of the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg.
However last year’s incident in Brazil occurred just as the biggest protests to be seen in a generation were beginning.
Originally sparked by an increase in bus fares in São Paulo, eventually over a million Brazilians took to the streets in anti-government and anti-World Cup demonstrations.
More protests to come?
Blatter said he did not believe there would be protests in Brazil during the World Cup as the situation had “calmed down”.
“I’m convinced the social protests will not be able to use the same arguments that were used at the Confederations Cup, as they are not valid,” the FIFA president said.
However, anti-World Cup protests have continued, and social media sites, such as Facebook, have protest events listed for this week, next month and indeed the World Cup itself.
Last year demonstrators took to the streets in their thousands throughout the Confederations Cup tournament in over 300 cities across the country – including all twelve cities that will host World Cup fixtures this year.
Cells of anarchists have been witnessed at the heart of virtually all protests to date, and clashes with police and vandalism have often accompanied the demonstrations.
Although now considerably lower both in terms of frequency and attendance, protesters have continued to vent their anger at the World Cup’s R$33 billion (US$14 billion) price tag, in a country where infrastructure and public services remain poor and underfunded, despite government pledges of extra cash in the wake of last year’s mass protests.
On Tuesday the Brazilian government said it would set up a task force to counter record disapproval in the country’s hosting of the World Cup and convince the population that the public investments would have a positive, long-term legacy – leaning particularly on additional revenue from a boost to tourism both this year and in the future.
Although the potential for protests has been a headache for FIFA, the stadiums have caused greater concern: just three months before kick-off and three stadiums, including the opening venue in São Paulo, have yet to be finished.
However, Blatter put his faith in Brazil’s ability to get everything ready on time, telling dpa on Tuesday that the “stadiums will work”:
“This isn’t my first World Cup.”
Story written for Anadolu Agency