Brazil grieves after nightclub fire 500 days before World Cup
The 500-day mark to the 2014 World Cup arrived Monday with FIFA President Sepp Blatter leaving football matters aside and offering support to Brazilians mourning the death of more than 230 people in nightclub fire a day earlier.
The focus moved away from Brazil's preparations for the upcoming Confederations Cup and football's showcase event as the tragedy in the southern city of Santa Maria continued to make all the headlines across the country.
After FIFA and local organizers canceled Monday's events celebrating the 500-day countdown to the World Cup, Blatter sent a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff lamenting the tragedy and expressing his condolences to the families of the victims.
"Although words can do little to comfort the pain and anguish being suffered in your country at this moment, I would like you to know that the football family is thinking of the Brazilian people at this sad time,'' Blatter said in the letter.
He said he hoped the game of football would help Brazilians recover from the tragedy.
"I would like you to know that with 500 days to go until the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, our game is here to support people who are suffering through the hope and positive emotions it brings with it, and to carry them through these dark days.''
The nightclub fire, the world's deadliest in more than a decade, happened in the city of Santa Maria, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from World Cup host city Porto Alegre, in the same state of Rio Grande do Sul.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was in Brazil inspecting construction work in the capital of Brasilia, which will host the Confederation's Cup opening match on June 15.
"Today is a very sad day for Brazil,'' said Valcke, who on Sunday had already posted a message on his Twitter account expressing sympathies.
Valcke will visit the northeastern city of Salvador on Tuesday and is expected to inspect work at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium on Wednesday.
The unveiling of the official World Cup poster also was originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed until Wednesday after a meeting of the local organizing committee in Rio de Janeiro.
The nightclub fire was expected to again increase the scrutiny of safety efforts ahead of the World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but FIFA was quick to reiterate that it has "full confidence in the security plans of the LOC and the local authorities.''
The 2016 Rio organizing committee and the IOC released statements on Sunday expressing solidarity with the families and friends of the tragedy's victims.