Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – In Rio’s centre, dozens of people gathered in front of a large TV projection of the Brazil-Serbia friendly football game.
It was an unofficial “test” event organised on June 6th by Comite Popular, one of the main opponents of the World Cup, and a spoof of a so-called FIFA “Fan Fest” scheduled to take place in each of the 12 host cities, where non-ticket holders can view the games on jumbotrons.
The difference was that instead of hearing from World Cup sponsors, the group spoke of human rights abuses ahead of Brazil’s World Cup. Vendors could sell any type of drink and food without corporate authorisation or special licenses. Fans could wear unofficial logos on shirts, and protesters – in this case a group of pharmacists – were free to demonstrate and pass out political brochures.
Around the match stadiums, none of those activities are permitted by law during the mega event.
Due to its magnitude, FIFA has increasingly worked with host nations to pass event-specific legislation. Brazil’s World Cup General Law passed in 2012, as a recent example, dictated security, ticket sales, visa procedures, state liability, labour regulations, infrastructure, and commercial space. FIFA convinced the government to temporarily remove a safety ban on alcohol sales inside stadiums to make room for Budweiser, a World Cup sponsor.
Large portions of the law were challenged in 2013, amid massive street protests, by former Prosecutor General Roberto Gurgel in Brazil’s Supreme Court, including the full tax exemptions granted to FIFA and all of its contractors.
“We are not against football,” said Giselle Tanaka of Comite Popular, who organised the FIFA spoof event and plans to do more during the tournament. “We are against FIFA’s World Cup. We are against all the corporations that are related to FIFA that are here without paying any taxes, promoting violations of human rights.”
‘Area of exclusivity’
As in South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, Brazil’s World Cup General Law instituted a “area of exclusivity“, a demarcated area up to 2km around stadiums and official FIFA “Fan Fests”, where only companies or people authorised by FIFA can distribute, sell, publicise or advertise products and perform services.
FIFA’s major partners include Visa, Sony, Coca-Cola and Emirates Airlines, which pay tens of millions of dollars per year, and other World Cup sponsor brands like Budweiser, Castrol and McDonald’s.
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“What this meant to Cape Town [South Africa], where a large percentage of the population are reliant on income through informal economies, was a huge loss of income and livelihoods, through wholesale discriminatory practises,” said Killian Doherty, an architect working in areas of conflict who looked at the issue in Cape Town in 2010.
In Brazil, a section of the law criminalised the use of FIFA trademarks, or practising any promotional activities not authorised by FIFA.
“One of the innovating, and polemical, aspects was the insertion into Brazilian legislation of ‘ambush marketing’, with a view to protect FIFA and its commercial partners,” explained Eduardo Calezzo, a sports lawyer and president of the South American Association of Football Players.
The law, punishable by up to a year in jail, lasts until after the event ends – December 31, 2014 – and is enforced by a special group of FIFA agents, civil and military police, and the municipal guard, according to a Rio security official, focused on FIFA-related branding.
“In a time of parties and celebrations in the city informal workers want to sell products to the crowds to earn extra income,” said Maria de Lourdes do Carmo, a representative of street vendors. She estimates that there are 60,000 informal workers in Rio, including many vendors. “In the case of the Maracana [stadium], we will not even be allowed to pass close by.”
In South Africa, Doherty said exclusion zones “exasperated the legacy of apartheid and more recent gentrification trends” and “inadvertently reproduced patterns of injustice and exclusion”.
FIFA vs sovereignty?
Four years after the South African event and during the most expensive tournament in Brazil’s history, the stakes are even higher.
What we must question is the way in which FIFA enters a country, exerting all kinds of pressure and demands, which the governments shouldn't give in to.
“All the violations which have been strongly denounced by the masses here [in Brazil], had already been seen in South Africa, and will definitely be seen in Russia and Qatar,” said Luana Xavier Pinto Coelho, the representative of National Urban Reform, a lobby group.
“We must question the way FIFA enters a country, exerting all kinds of pressure and demands, which the governments shouldn’t give in to.”
As many as 250,000 people across Brazil live under the threat of eviction, according to activists, many of whom have been fighting for several years ahead of two major international sport events.
In May 2013, Rio’s then governor Sergio Cabral reportedly blamed FIFA for the state’s eviction of an indigenous squatter group that had taken refuge in an old crumbling museum steps away from Maracana stadium, to make room for the area’s renovation, allegations which FIFA denied.
“FIFA is very careful about what they say about displacement. They will say that not one person has been removed because of a stadium. But what is associated with FIFA is the responsibility matrix that the city signs with FIFA,” said Chris Gaffney, a professor of architecture and urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Rio. “FIFA also has a moral implication to analyse the impact on the cities,”
According to officials, FIFA also entered into an agreement with the Brazilian government to create as many as 400 security protocols, such as no-fly zones and the security of hotels, stadiums and heads of state. For instance, protocols demand that the president of FIFA and its secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, will receive the status of heads of state during the games, according to Undersecretary of Security for Major Events Roberto Alzir.
Surrounding the stadium, thousands of military police guard against protestors on match days.
“The emergencies are artificially created and bring into existence extra-governmental regimes that create their own planning and security agencies,” said Gaffney.
Government officials have argued, however, that FIFA has not imposed its rules on Brazil. The World Cup “is in itself an extraordinary act that creates new demands not foreseen in the country’s internal legislation”, according to the government’s World Cup website.
As for whether the government thinks the General Law impedes national sovereignty, according to the same website:
“Brazil exercised its sovereignty when it signed the guarantees and none of the regulatory amendments proposed goes against the Federal Constitution or the country’s legal order. Other countries that hosted World Cups also signed similar guarantees and approved specific laws for the occasion.”
Alzir said: “Perhaps the process of candidature could have been better debated with the population, which has its negative side and positive side. But this is not a failure of sovereignty because the state itself goes to FIFA to organise it.”