RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo admitted Tuesday the World Cup faced “serious” security problems – but said the country would not be as dangerous as warzones like Iraq or Afghanistan.
“We all have our tragedies and challenges, serious problems relating to security,” said Mr Rebelo as he embarked upon a hyperbolic offensive to defend Brazil, racing to be ready to host the Cup from June 12.
“I think Brazil is far less exposed to this kind of religious and nationalistic violence,” which has affected countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Rebelo said in a Rio address.
He also hit back at English press reports voicing fears about crime in Manaus – where England open their tournament campaign against Italy – citing Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a comparison.
“I think it’s a good place for football. The English got used to hot temperatures during the colonial era – and the Iraq war,” Mr Rebelo said.
“I don’t think the English will confront greater threats in Manaus than in the Iraqi provinces or Afghanistan, where they recently lost hundreds of young soldiers” over the past decade, Mr Rebelo added.
While saluting the fact Brazil has “firm links with Britain,” he could not resist an additional barb.
Noting the north-eastern coastal city of Recife hosts a British cemetery, a relic of a sea-faring colonial power’s historic tropical adventures, he said: “I don’t think its population will rise because of the World Cup!”
Mr Rebelo also stated that violence had rocked several sporting events in the past, citing the Munich Olympics massacre and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
He referred to “the tragedy in Germany when athletes were kidnapped and killed” at the 1972 Munich Olympics, as well as a bomb attack at the Atlanta Games in 1996, “when there were deaths in the Olympic park.”
Mr Rebelo also said that only this year, “there was an attack at a station with civilian victims” in the Russian city of Volgograd ahead of the Sochi Winter Games.
He further noted London had suffered terrorist attacks in recent years.
Mr Rebelo observed even Sweden had experienced political violence with the assassination of former prime minister Olof Palme in 1986.
France likewise got the Rebelo treatment, as he denounced “frequent problems in the metro” in Paris and likened the stations to prisons.
He rounded off by reminding correspondents that “this year we are commemorating the centenary of the great butchery of the first World War,” on a scale unthinkable in Brazil.
Promising “modern, sophisticated” security for the World Cup Mr Rebelo said Brazil would cope with popular protests expected to occur during the event as civilians slam corruption and the Cup costs, estimated at more than US$11 billion (S$13.7 billion).
“Brazil has constitutional protection for demonstrations (but) the law prohibits violent protests,” he noted.