ZURICH (AP) — Players' health in Brazil has not been jeopardized to please European broadcasters, FIFA's top 2014 World Cup official said Friday after some matches were scheduled in early-afternoon heat.
"The health of the player and the quality of the game is on the top of the list before any other consideration — and definitely no commercial consideration," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.
FIFA detailed group-stage kickoff times Thursday with tropical cities Natal, Recife and Salvador each hosting two matches at 1 p.m. local time — 6 p.m. in prime family viewing time in central Europe.
Pressed by Brazilian reporters at a news conference, Valcke made a passionate defense of the FIFA-approved schedule.
"I can't even imagine why and how you could think that we are making decisions thinking about the television," he said.
Kickoff slots in the early stages of the month-long tournament are 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., meaning the latest matches start at midnight in central Europe. Starting the first match later would have pushed the third match further into the night in Europe, which has 13 of the 32 teams taking part.
Valcke said broadcasters would only be happy with good football. FIFA's financial report last year showed that European networks paid a combined $1.29 billion for rights to the 2010 World Cup — around 30 percent of FIFA's total income for the four-year financial cycle.
FIFA had also consulted its medical committee before agreeing the match schedule, Valcke said.
Natal, Recife and Salvador, on the northeast coast, can expect temperatures around 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) in June.
In the western Amazon rainforest, Manaus will host two of its four matches at 3 p.m. local time, probably in high humidity.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter recalled that the World Cups of 1970 and 1986 in Mexico scheduled matches at "high noon" in hotter temperatures than Brazil, and at altitude.
The 1994 World Cup in the United States also featured matches played in the mid-30s Celsius and fierce humidity.
Valcke acknowledged that Brazil was "lucky" to get group-stage kickoffs at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., in Sao Paulo, Fortaleza and Brasilia. The host nation cannot play in the iconic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro until the July 13 final.
"The match schedule has not been organized just for Brazil to win this World Cup, but it is true they are lucky and playing in very good conditions," he said.
The 2014 World Cup match schedule has been the subject of debate after Brazilian football leaders and politicians overruled Valcke's original wish to stage matches in four regional clusters to minimize travel.
Instead, teams and fans will be sent hundreds of (kilometers) miles around the country playing in different climates.
"Whatever we do is never right," Valcke said wryly. "We have made a decision to play in all Brazil because that was the request of Brazil.
"You have a country which is not a small country, it is a continent, A country where it can be two degrees and 25, 26 degrees at the same time of the day on the same day."