RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The recent outbreak of deadly violence in the heart of Rio de Janeiro will not compromise the World Cup, FIFA's secretary general pledged Friday.
Speaking at a news conference just days after the clashes, Jerome Valcke insisted there's not a country on Earth where the World Cup could be hosted without the specter of violence and insisted the June 12-July 13 tournament in Brazil would be safe.
"What has happened in Rio does not put at risk the organization of the World Cup for FIFA, at all," he said. "I'm sure that the safety of the World Cup . will be at the highest level for all people involved."
The clashes at the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum broke out late Tuesday after the discovery of the body of a dancer on a popular television show. Many of the slum dwellers blamed the police for the man's death, and the ensuing confrontation between residents and police officers engulfed the hillside slum and spilled down into the high-rent Copacabana neighborhood. Firefights rang out, and police detonated deafening stun grenades sprayed clouds of tear gas as residents hurled glass bottles and other projectiles. Another man was killed in the mayhem, apparently by a bullet to the head.
Sandwiched between two of Rio's most touristy and priciest neighborhoods, Pavao-Pavaozinho is also near the site of FIFA's Fan Fest, an outdoor screening area on Copacabana beach that will allow non-ticket holders to follow the World Cup matches.
While he called the incident "sad," Valcke suggested the media had exaggerated Tuesday's violence. He compared the coverage to news reports about riots a few years ago in the poor suburbs of Paris that made the situation there seem like a war.
"There is not a single country where there are not problems on the day to day," Valcke said, adding that if people are worried about violence during the Brazil World Cup, they should also be worried about possible problems in Russia, which is hosting the 2018 tournament.
Violence flared during a World Cup warm-up tournament in Brazil last year, after the largest public protests in a generation broke out at the start of the tournament. In the six host cities, protests took place during most of the matches, with police firing stun grenades and clouds of tear gas as some of the demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails. The clouds of tear gas were so thick outside the final at Rio's Maracana stadium that players complained it affected them on the pitch.
Brazil has more cities on the list of the world's 50 most dangerous metropolises than any other, with 16 entries, according to the Mexico-based Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice. Mexico comes in second place, with 9 cities on the 2014 list, which was released in January.