Brazil’s 2014 football World Cup alcohol challenge
Under sustained pressure from international football’s governing body, FIFA, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has announced the temporary suspension of a law banning the consumption and sale of beer in stadia for the duration of the 2014 football World Cup.
The announcement comes after months of domestic political discourse in Brazil and various acrimonious exchanges between FIFA and the Brazilian authorities.
During a visit to Brazil earlier this year FIFA’s General Secretary Jerome Valcke made the shockingly indelicate remark to journalists in Rio de Janeiro that “alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them,” to which he added, “excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that’s something we won’t negotiate.” Of course Valcke sounded arrogant, so arrogant that the Brazilian Senate refused to grant the FIFA executive an audience, demanding that the organization’s President Sepp Blatter travel to Brazil instead.
FIFA’s arrogance and its seeming disregard for the authority of the state are, of course, not without precedent. This time around international football’s governing body’s decision to ‘lean on’ the Rousseff administration had to do with its concern with protecting its longstanding multi-million-dollar contract with the brewing giant Budweiser, which, incidentally, is currently controlled by Brazilian and Belgian business interests. With so much potentially economic gain to be derived from its hosting of the 2014 World Cup it was always likely that the authorities in Brasilia would give in to FIFA’s demand, never mind the fact that the law banning the use of alcohol at football stadia had to do with efforts by the Brazilian authorities to combat football-related violence.
The question that arises, of course, is whether the decision by the Brazilian authorities to relax the law at FIFA’s behest does not amount to a case of corporate interests trumping public safety considerations, a point made repeatedly by public lobbyists and legislators during the many months of debate over the issue. That consideration does not appear to trouble FIFA in the least.
FIFA, of course, has been able to consolidate its global power through its lucrative takings from alcohol sponsorship, while the brewers like Budweiser are only too well aware of the fact that their investments in events like the Football World Cup are repaid many times over. For its part international football’s governing body has steadfastly refused to accept that alcohol and sport are a mismatch, that the use of alcohol at sports’ events sends the wrong signals to young people, and that the practice circumvents the self-regulatory codes of the alcohol industry.
No sport that is played internationally attracts as much violence as football (soccer) and such rules as have been applied to the use of alcohol in football stadia, particularly in Europe, where football-related violence is most common, have been premised on the view that in circumstances where spectators passions run high – as is the case with football games – excessive alcohol intake can trigger and sustain passions that can lead to extreme violence. Over the decades there has been no shortage of such incidents on the European football circuit. Nor is it a secret that football games in Europe habitually attract intoxicated thugs and hooligans whose only motive is to trigger confrontations that spawn violence. Football seasons in many European capitals are periods of intensified and costly security measures and the ease of travel across Europe imposes upon some European governments the burden of having to police fans from several countries simultaneously, during intra-continental club and country matches.
Interestingly, FIFA has never been known to go much beyond what can, at best, be described as routine condemnation of football-related violence, nor has it ever been inclined either to accept responsibility for incidents of violence or to accept that its own pro-alcohol policy is inhibiting states in their efforts to bring an end to football-related violence. In this case, what FIFA has said to the Brazilian authorities is that if it wants to reap the economic benefits to be derived from hosting the Football World Cup it must accept both the significant costs and the major risk challenges associated with providing security for the 2014 event which, even in the absence of alcohol, will pose a demanding security challenge anyway. There is much that is wrong with that equation.