After months of political wrangling within Brazil’s government, the debate over the controversial “World Cup law” that centers around the distribution and advertisement of alcohol in tournament stadiums appears to be coming to a conclusion. This past Wednesday, lawmakers in Congress’ lower house of deputies passed the bill, paving the way for passage by the Senate and ratification by the President.
While the troubles surrounding the passage of the World Cup law are some of the many roadblocks that have arisen during planning for the 2014 World Cup, this bill is a key step in answering skeptics within FIFA that Brazil will be able to meet even basic contractual agreements. A key piece of President Dilma Rouseff’s legislative agenda this year, the bill provides a legal framework for the organization of the 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup and was passed only after Rouseff oversaw the release of frozen cash for earmarks supported by voting lawmakers. The bill, which includes key commercial stipulations that Brazil committed to fulfilling when awarded the right to host World Cup in 2007, has been debated on multiple fronts in Brazil for several years.
At the heart of the debate over the bill is a 2003 ban on the sale of alcohol in football stadiums, a measure that was intended to reduce violence at matches. Lawmakers opposing passage of the bill have claimed that allowing the sale of alcohol would represent a “terrible example” to the people of Brazil and the “retrocede” of a progressive ban. FIFA stands to make tens of millions of dollars from its partnership with official World Cup beer sponsor (and top advertiser) Budweiser, and its attitude comes as no surprise; in January, secretary general Jerome Valcke said, “Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that’s something we won’t negotiate.”
The vote, which has been repeatedly put off by lawmakers over the past few months, was scheduled to be held later this month. While the merits of the opposition’s argument are certainly commendable – lawmakers were seeking to address Brazil’s world leading soccer-related death rate – it will be a political and financial risk if the government ultimately opposes the sale of alcohol at World Cup sites and inside stadiums. The sale of beer has been an ever-present at FIFA World Cups for the past few decades, and it will be seen as a huge embarrassment for the South American nation if their legislature cannot agree to meet contractual obligations with FIFA. If passed, the World Cup law will repeal a federal ban on the sale of alcohol within football stadiums. While this would appear to alleviate any alcohol-related worries that FIFA may have, it still leaves potential for host states to uphold the existing ban.
For the sake of Brazil’s World Cup planning committee, FIFA, and most importantly, tournament spectators, hopefully the passage of this bill in Congress’ lower house of deputies is a signal of an imminent end to the alcohol saga for the 2014 World Cup. Not only would this be a meaningful step forward for the next installment of the world’s greatest tournament, but hopefully a message to the governments of Russia and Qatar (respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts), who also have bans on the sale of alcohol in football stadiums.