WCup organizers cancel event after fire tragedy

BRADLEY BROOKS Associated Press Published:

SAO PAULO (AP) -- FIFA and local organizers canceled an event celebrating 500 days to go until the 2014 World Cup because of a devastating nightclub fire that killed more than 230 people in southern Brazil on Sunday.

FIFA said it maintained "full confidence" in Brazilian authorities' security plans for the World Cup, but the event scheduled for Monday in the capital of Brasilia was called off in respect to the victims of the fire in the southern city of Santa Maria.

Organizers said they felt "extremely sad for what happened" and expressed "their sympathy to the families of the victims."

The unveiling of the official World Cup poster was scheduled for Monday but was also postponed. It will be unveiled Wednesday after a meeting of the local organizing committee in Rio de Janeiro.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who began a four-day visit to Brazil on Sunday, posted a message on his Twitter account expressing his sympathies.

"Very sad to hear of the tragedy in southern Brazil. My condolences to the families of victims," wrote Valcke, who is scheduled to visit Fortaleza, Brasilia, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro in the center and north of the country.

Santa Maria is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Porto Alegre, one of 12 World Cup host cities, in the same state of Rio Grande do Sul. The nightclub fire, which appeared to be the world's deadliest in more than a decade, is likely to again increase the scrutiny of safety efforts ahead of the World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. However, FIFA reiterated its belief that the local organizing committees and Brazilian city, state and federal agencies are up to the task.

"FIFA has full confidence in the security plans of the LOC and the local authorities," football's governing body said in a statement, declining further comment on "this tragic incident."

The 2016 Rio organizing committee said it "deeply lamented the tragedy in Santa Maria."

"Rio 2016 expresses solidarity with the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy," it said in a statement. "It wishes a quick recovery to those affected."

The International Olympic Committee said that "we simply send our sympathies to friends and families."

With the World Cup kicking off in less than 17 months, incidents like the tragedy in Santa Maria draw extra scrutiny on hosts' preparedness for major sports events and the expected influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Hosting the World Cup and Olympics back-to-back has already heightened attention on security and crime issues in Brazil -- although the discussion has so far mainly focused on areas related to violence at games and ongoing efforts by police to take control of favelas, or shantytowns, from drug gangs.

South Africa's relatively high rates of violent crime were similarly scrutinized before the 2010 World Cup, but that tournament was held without major incident.

Even London faced questions about its preparedness for the 2012 Olympics after riots in the neighborhood of Tottenham, just a few kilometers (miles) from the main Olympic stadium, one year before the Summer Games were set to start.

Because of the tragedy, the Rio Grande do Sul state football federation canceled all Sunday matches in its first-division regional championship. And there was a minute of silence honoring the victims before matches across the country.

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva and AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Rustenburg, South Africa, contributed to this report.