By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - FIFA has defended the fan fests due to take place in the 12 host cities at this year's World Cup in Brazil, saying income raised from the events can cover the costs of holding them.
"FIFA has worked in close cooperation with the host cities to guarantee that costs will be kept to a minimum," Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general wrote in Wedensday's edition of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.
"The cost of organising a 32-day fan fest is, in many cases, less than what is spent on New Year's celebrations, or Carnival, or regional festivals."
Valcke said soccer's world governing body was giving "significant financial help" in providing infrastructure for the events, including big screens, stages, and lighting, and the celebrations would provide priceless international exposure.
"Best of all, even though it doesn't seem to interest the media, is that the cities can cover all their costs through the generation of income from, for example, the profit from restaurants," he wrote.
"That brought an enormous financial return for previous fan fests," he added, without providing specific figures.
Valcke's response came a fortnight after Recife reneged on a plan to invest at least 11 million Brazilian reais ($4.7 million) in setting up a fan fest, although it said it would still hold the event if private investors could be found.
Xico Sa, a leading writer from the region, celebrated that decision in a Folha column, saying Recife was "morally correct" in refusing to pay for the events.
Sa argued the true fan fests were held in bars all over Brazil, prompting Valcke to respond.
"In the real world, contracts are important. No one forced Brazil to host the 2014 World Cup. Brazil applied and when it was told of the requirements the authorities quickly agreed and signed commitments," he wrote.
The reluctance to use public money to host the events comes eight months after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against spending on the World Cup and insufficient investment in public services such as transport, health and education.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to gather at the fan fests, which are usually held in well-known central plazas or tourist spots and feature big screens showing World Cup games as well as music, street food and pre-match entertainment.
The fests started at the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan and were included as part of the official World Cup programme in Germany four years later as a way for fans without tickets to watch games together in a party atmosphere.
(Editing by Josh Reich)