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World Cup is FIFA's event not Germany's, says Blatter

By Staff
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BERLIN, Mar 1 (Reuters) FIFA president Sepp Blatter today rejected criticism in Germany of the strict rules governing food and drink in World Cup stadiums, saying the tournament belonged to FIFA not Germany.

''I need to be clear about this once and for all: the World Cup does not belong to Germany, this is not a German World Cup.

It is a FIFA World Cup in Germany that cost us 1 billion Swiss francs (758.7 million dollars),'' Blatter told top-selling German daily Bild in an interview.

The world soccer body has contracted 21 firms to sponsor the month-long tournament, which starts on June 9, and has placed strict limits on the presence of non-sponsors in Germany's 12 World Cup stadiums.

US beermaker Anheuser Busch's Budweiser will be the only beer sold in the stadiums -- a slap in the face to many Germans who pride themselves on the quality of their own brew.

''It was on the basis of these ground rules that Germany was given the World Cup,'' Blatter said. ''They approved them, not only the German Football Association (DFB) but also the government.'' Blatter also defended a decision by FIFA in January to cancel the World Cup opening gala in Berlin over concerns it would ruin the pitch at the city's Olympic Stadium, a key site for the tournament.

''This was the best decision we made. Unfortunately it was much too late,'' Blatter said.

BIRD FLU Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit has said he will send FIFA a proposal to stage the extravaganza near the Brandenburg Gate in the centre of the German capital.

Asked whether an outbreak of bird flu in Germany, which has killed one cat but otherwise been limited to the wild bird population, threatened the soccer tournament, Blatter said : ''At the moment no.

''But if bird flu developed into a threat like the plague or cholera, if people are infecting people, then the government must take a decision. We would have to respect that. That is clear.'' Blatter also said he did not rule out changing the May 15 deadline for World Cup coaches to submit their squads, after Germany's Juergen Klinsmann said earlier in the week he planned to forward his list of players at a later date.

''We can't rule it out. If an official request is made then the FIFA organisational commission can look at it in mid-March.'' REUTERS SC PC1624

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