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When Brazil was named the 2014 World Cup host in 2007, a protracted battle began between the country and soccer's governing body, FIFA: whether to allow beer sales in Brazilian stadiums.

Alcohol is usually banned in soccer matches here in the interest of public security and avoiding fights. But with Anheuser-Busch InBev as a tournament sponsor, FIFA insisted that Brazilian authorities allow beer sales during the month-long event, leading to President Dilma Rousseff signing legislation in 2012 that allows alcoholic beverages inside World Cup stadiums.

That's why the recent about-face in comments from Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general, came as a source of frustration and vindication for Brazilians who long had fought for the alcohol sales restriction.

In 2012, when he argued for authorities to allow alcohol sales in stadiums, Valcke told the news media, "Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that's something we won't negotiate." But as the tournament has progressed, Valcke said he was worried that fans were drinking too much.

"I was surprised by the level of alcohol. A lot of people were drunk, which can raise the level of violence," he told Brazil's SporTV in an interview last week.

After the statements from Valcke, the state prosecutor's body in Rio de Janeiro threatened to open a civil lawsuit against FIFA if the body did not restrict alcohol sales in stadiums for the rest of the tournament, which ends Sunday with the final in Rio. But FIFA said it did not intend to review its policy.

For Mauricio Murad, a sociologist at Rio de Janeiro's Salgado de Oliveira University who researches violence related to soccer in Brazil, the statement from Valcke came as affirmation for advocates, including himself, who supported the alcohol ban.

Murad, who calls Brazil the "world champion" in soccer-related violence, has tallied 85 deaths related to soccer matches between 2009 and 2013. He said fights often happen between organized fan groups and that he counts ones that happen inside and outside of stadiums.

"All of the medical, psychological and sociological research shows that alcohol raises the potential for aggressiveness and therefore violence," Murad said.

The sociologist said that during the World Cup fans are drinking excessively by "pre-gaming" before matches and continuing to drink once inside.

As rowdy fans leave the metro stops to the Maracana stadium, vendors hawk last-minute beer cans to them before they pass through a police barrier to enter the stadium's grounds, and bars in the area are staying open even on Sundays to take advantage of the flow of customers on game days.

Similarly, at the entrance to the free FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana beach, where games are broadcast on a large screen and only Anheuser-Busch beers can be purchased inside, fans can routinely be seen chugging low-priced caipirinhas (sugar-based cachaca liquor with lime) from vendors in the sands in front of the entrance.

Brazilian authorities do not keep data on violence related specifically to alcohol, but several anecdotes from the tournament have shown drinking to be related to brawls and fights. A brawl between Brazil and Argentina fans in Brasilia began after a Brazilian fan reportedly threw a cup of beer on a group of Argentine fans; some 20 police responded to the incident to break up the fight. Similarly, a fight broke out in Recife when a group of Mexican fans reportedly threw beer on Croatians.

To defend the viability of limiting alcohol at soccer matches, Murad pointed to police efforts to catch drunk drivers that have had a measurable impact on traffic deaths, even though Brazilians routinely complain about the annoyance of the checkpoints.

"Why is this valid in traffic, but not in the stadiums?" Murad said. "In the stadiums, people are all the more emotional."

 

July 8, 2014

 

 
 
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