By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) - World soccer's governing body FIFA defended itself on Tuesday from criticism that it is making big bucks from the most costly World Cup in history at the expense of the Brazilian people.
FIFA said in a statement that it has covered the entire $2 billion (1.19 billion pounds) operational costs of the World Cup with money from the sale of World Cup TV and marketing rights, and not a cent will be footed by Brazilian taxpayers.
The 32-nation tournament that kicks off on Thursday will cost Brazil 25.8 billion reais in investments in stadiums, airports, urban transport and other infrastructure improvements. One third has been spent on new or renovated stadiums in 12 host cities.
FIFA said it was Brazil's choice to build 12 stadiums instead of opting for eight or 10, and investments include infrastructure not directly linked to the World Cup that will benefit the country for years to come.
Many Brazilians consider the price tag excessive for a developing nation that has more important priorities and say the money should have been spent on improvements to deficient public services in health, education and transport.
The high costs have brought disillusionment with the top event in a sport Brazilians are passionate about. The resulting anti-World Cup movement triggered massive street protests a year ago and threatens to disrupt access to Cup stadiums.
Brazilians believe FIFA has turned the World Cup into a business, to the point where it obliged their country to change its laws to allow the sale of alcoholic drinks produced by event sponsors.
They also complain that tickets to the games in the new stadiums are so expensive that many Brazilian fans of the popular sport cannot afford them. FIFA said there are tickets available that are cheap compared to other sports events like the Olympic Games, Formula 1 races and tennis tournaments.
FIFA also denied it had demanded tax exemption for its sponsors and commercial activities during the World Cup, though it has required the easing of customs rules to import materials needed to organise the event, such as computers, footballs and electronic advertising boards, the statement said.
The soccer body also rejected charges it demanded evictions of people living next to stadiums that were built or renovated, or that it had driven out street vendors from around the venues.
Due to security concerns, however, vendors had to get accredited to sell authorised products outside the stadiums and were given training and uniforms, the FIFA statement said.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa generated total revenue of $3.65 billion for FIFA, including $2.4 billion from the sale of TV rights, but excluding ticket revenue. Expenses incurred totaled $1.3 billion, according to FIFA.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Ken Ferris)