The global outbreak of World Cup fever rages on as the highly anticipated and widely followed sporting event progresses into the next stage. Currently in the midst of the competition, goals, saves, controversial calls, and perhaps even more controversial player antics, take center stage. However, throughout the lead up to this World Cup, before the matches began, an interesting legal battle unfolded as tensions emerged between strictly-enforced FIFA law and host country Brazil’s constitutional law.
Before a host-country is selected, FIFA requires a government guarantee with regards to various legal issues, such as security, infrastructure, tax law, customs, and visa procedures. Perhaps the most significant issue that arose this year in Brazil was that of the sale of alcohol inside stadiums. Prior to working with FIFA, Brazil had a federal statute in place that banned the entry and sale of alcoholic beverages at stadiums during football matches. This law was originally put into place in an effort to curb football-related violence that had long plagued Brazil, a country with one of the worst records in the world of fan deaths in or around their soccer stadiums. To comply with FIFA, Brazil’s congress enacted Law 12.663/2012, allowing for the sale of alcohol during Cup matches. Also in contention with Brazilian law, the country has agreed to assume civil liability for FIFA in the event of losses or damages resulting from an accident or security issue, whereas typically the state would only assume liability on behalf of a public entity, or a private entity performing public services; FIFA does not qualify as either.
Further, the alcohol industry walks away with even larger pockets due to the requirement that the host country must waive tax on any profits made by a World Cup commercial partner. This stipulation on its own deprives Brazil of an estimated $523 million in revenue, fueling the fire of domestic protesters who have been against the World Cup’s Brazilian location since day one, citing the contrast between millions spent on stadiums and facilities and the dire poverty that affects much of the country’s population.
The power of the alcohol industry has not only manifested itself in this year’s host country. Qatar, a Muslim nation with very rigid drinking laws, has already agreed to sell alcohol in fan zones during its 2022 World Cup games. Ireland had planned on prohibiting alcohol companies from sponsoring sporting events by 2016, but has since backed down. England and Wales have loosened certain licensing laws in order to allow pubs to stay open later than usual when a match has a late kickoff time, despite a 37.5% rise in emergency visits on the days that England played during the 2010 World Cup.
In a global climate so favorable to the sport, it is unlikely that FIFA, referred to as the “United Nations of Football,” will experience much pushback from a country eager to host a World Cup. With hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue at stake for the host country and billions of viewers worldwide, the combination of a promised economic boost and promoting the general public interest may very well establish a pattern of legal rule-bending for many Cups to come.