Beer a hot potato at 2014 SWC
Rio de Janeiro - Brazilians love their beer, consuming 12.6 billion litres in 2010 alone, but its sale in stadiums during the 2014 Soccer World Cup in their football-crazy country has become a serious obstacle in the run-up to the event.
Despite efforts of the nation's President Dilma Rousseff, even some ruling-party legislators remain reluctant to lift laws that ban the consumption of alcohol in stadiums in seven out of the 12 Brazilian states that are to host World Cup matches.
For the ruling football body FIFA, allowing the sale of beer in stadiums during the World Cup, and the 2013 Confederations Cup, is non-negotiable.
At stake is the satisfaction of one of FIFA's main sponsors, the Budweiser brewery, which has in fact been controlled by the Belgian-Brazilian group InBev since 2008.
On Tuesday, the government's allies in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress agreed to remove explicit reference to allowing the sale of beer in stadiums from the text of the so-called World Cup General Law that they are to vote on, possibly Wednesday.
Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo stressed that there is no worry: the ban is to be effectively lifted.
"Guarantees were given (to FIFA) by the Brazilian government, but the governors of the states that are to host matches also signed those guarantees. The government's interpretation is that those commitments are featured in the bill," Rebelo said Tuesday.
However, ruling-party legislator Vicente Candido, who drafted the original text which explicitly lifted the ban, said the new version does not go far enough.
"I think this text does not comply with the deal that was made with FIFA, but I have to follow my party's line," Candido said.
The "anti-beer movement" brings together a heterogenous group which goes from representatives of Pentecostal churches, who oppose lifting the ban for religious reasons, to nationalist legislators who interpret pressure from FIFA as an attack on Brazil's sovereignty.
The strength of this movement is a cause for concern for the Brazilian government, which is also currently enduring a "rebellion" by allied legislators who feel they are being mistreated by the Rousseff government.
In this context, it seemed like a possibility that the so-called World Cup General Law, which regulates all aspects of hosting the World Cup, might be rejected when put to a vote before the lower house of the Brazilian Congress if it explicitly lifted the ban on alcohol.
"There are many Pentecostal legislators, but there are not enough to prevent the bill from passing. We will only be defeated if there are betrayals," a government advisor had told dpa.
Rousseff conducted intense negotiations with key pro-government legislators this week, and called upon her whole Cabinet to seek majority support for the bill. However, the government remained clearly concerned with the possibility of such betrayals and backed down instead.
The text which was passed by a special commission of the lower house of Congress earlier this month did lift the ban on the sale of beer, but the plenary shall not get to vote on that.
While the absence of the controversial reference to beer appeared to increase the chances that the World Cup General Law be finally approved, it was less clear whether FIFA would be pleased with it.
In a meeting on Monday with pro-government legislators and several of her ministers, Rousseff recalled that her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, committed in writing in June 2007 to allowing beer in stadiums.
"There are not and there will not be any legal restrictions or bans on the sale, advertising and distribution of products of (FIFA's) commercial partners, including food and drinks, in stadiums or elsewhere during the events," said the text that Lula signed with FIFA.
Rebelo said the government "respects" the arguments of those who oppose liberalizing the sale of alcohol, but stressed that it essential for the country to honour its international pledges.
It remained to be seen whether those pledges could indeed be honoured with the current text of the World Cup General Law.