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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders June 11, 2014

John Oliver says FIFA pressured Brazil into lifting its alcohol ban at stadiums for World Cup

Brazilians are famous for their passion for soccer, though the fervor sometimes is so intense that people die. The country’s lawmakers banned alcohol at stadiums 11 years ago in effort to curb game-related violence.

One problem: Budweiser, famous for its beer, is a major sponsor of the 2014 FIFA World Cup being held in Brazil.

So something had to give. And according to comedian John Oliver, it was the alcohol ban.

"The amazing thing is here FIFA won. They successfully pressured Brazil into passing a so-called Budweiser bill, allowing beer sales in soccer stadiums," Oliver said June 8 on his HBO show Last Week Tonight. "And at this point you can either be horrified by that or relieved that FIFA was not also sponsored by cocaine and chainsaws."

We decided to investigate the brewhaha.

FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fisher said "there is no Budweiser bill," though "it’s true that at the World Cup we will be able to sell beer, and that was part of our requirements." Brazil knew about FIFA’s requirements when it bid to host the World Cup, she said.

Indeed, Budweiser and Brahma, owned by Belgian-Brazilian company Anheuser-Busch InBev, are on tap and will be sold in plastic cups at matches, she said.

So what happened?

Oliver’s research team sent us many news stories to back up his claim, including a January 2012 CNN International story highlighting the controversy and comments from FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

"Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them," Valcke said in January 2012. "Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that's something we won't negotiate."

Valcke was also irritated about the country’s all-around lack of progress for the tournament. His comments, in turn, outraged Brazilians two years ago, with leaders at one point refusing to meet with him.

Slowly and controversially, FIFA got what it wanted. A World Cup-related bill passed Brazil’s Senate in May 2012 and President Dilma Rousseff signed it into law in June 2012.

Rousseff announced a temporary amendment that allowed beer to be sold at the World Cup and also the Confederations Cup in 2013.

The bill that passed actually did not explicitly authorize beer sales at the matches, but government leaders said it allowed Brazil to lift the alcohol ban during the World Cup month, per FIFA’s demand. One senator explained the law simply ratified what the executive branch had already done by agreeing to FIFA’s requirements when it bid for the Cup, according to an Associated Press account.

In short, the bill that passed in Brazil set the guidelines for hosting the World Cup. And by not including a ban on alcohol, alcohol effectively is permitted.

Oliver referred to the measure as a "so-called Budweiser bill," but we did not find that characterization widely spread in news stories in a Nexis search, though the connection is unmistakable. His research team pointed to the phrase used in a New Zealand study of alcohol consumption at sporting events (referring to FIFA’s lobbying in Brazil over beer) and also on a blog called Left Foot Forward.

This probably won’t be the last time we hear about a country bending its alcohol prohibitions to please FIFA. Similar stadium bans exist in Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup, and Qatar, the small Middle Eastern country that will host in 2022.

Our ruling

Oliver called out FIFA for having "pressured Brazil into passing a so-called Budweiser bill, allowing beer sales in soccer stadiums."

There is no doubt that FIFA demanded beer be allowed to be sold at this summer’s World Cup, and that it was part of an agreement to host the World Cup in the first place. That fits a typical definition of pressure. Oliver took a bit more creative license in calling it the "so-called Budweiser bill," but the characterization does not diminish Oliver’s overall point.

We rate his statement True.

Our Sources

Interview with Delia Fisher, FIFA head of media, June 9, 2014

Interview with Tobe Becker, HBO programming spokeswoman, June 10, 2014

CNN, "World Cup beer battle brewing between Brazil and FIFA," Jan. 20, 2012

NPR, "Brazil Moves To Ease Soccer Beer Ban, As World Cup Spat With FIFA Grows," March 7, 2012

Advertising Age, "Brazil’s Brahma finds unique way to merge beer and soccer," Feb. 24, 2014

IBN Live, "Brazil tops deaths due to football violence," July 20, 2009

Fox Sports, "Lawmakers approve bill suspending ban on beer sales in stadiums at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil," March 20, 2012

BBC News, "Brazil World Cup beer law signed by President Rousseff," June 6, 2012

Agence France Presse, "Rousseff signs law assuring beer will flow at World Cup," June 6, 2012 (via Nexis)

Associated Press via ESPN, "Brazilian Senate backs key WC bill," May 9, 2012

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John Oliver says FIFA pressured Brazil into lifting its alcohol ban at stadiums for World Cup

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