Brazil may be favourites to win the 2014 World Cup but whichever team gets the trophy the real winner will be the alcohol industry, according to a special report in the British medical journal BMJ.
The journal describes how the UK government changed its licensing laws and how the Brazilian Government was persuaded to abandon its ban on alcohol in sports stadiums, introduced in an attempt to end often fatal violence between rival fans at games.
Brazilian health professionals say the alcohol industry is “running the show” and fear that the changes may become permanent.
The report outlines how lobbying pressure from the alcohol industry has forced a U-turn by the UK government, which initially refused to relax licensing hours to allow pubs to stay open longer during the World Cup.
At the end of last year, Home Office minister Norman Baker announced he would not be relaxing licensing laws during the tournament despite a campaign by the British Beer and Pub Association to persuade him to “back Roy’s boys” in Brazil.
But within three months, the alcohol industry forced the government to “rethink” and by the end of March was celebrating “really great news, which will put pubs at the heart of a great national event”.
During a World Cup, the host country must waive tax on any profits made by FIFA’s commercial partners, including Budweiser, the tournament’s official beer sponsor.
Last month, Budweiser and Coca-Cola, another FIFA partner, persuaded the Brazilian government to postpone plans to increase taxes on beer and other beverages until after the tournament.
Bloomberg reported the decision had been made after a meeting between Brazil’s finance minister and AB inBev executives, the world’s largest brewing company and owner of Budweiser, in the capital, Brasilia.
A recent study found a 37.5% increase in hospital visits due to assaults “often associated with alcohol use” on the days England played during the 2010 tournament.
This echoes similar findings from the 2006 World Cup and a Welsh study on admissions after international rugby and football matches.
In an accompanying article, Clifford Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, believes a relaxation of licensing laws for the World Cup “sets an unwelcome precedent”.
He points out that the consequences of alcohol abuse are seen daily in the country’s emergency departments.
Those with vested interests, he argues, “must not be allowed to peddle the notion that sporting events are best enjoyed with alcohol and we must certainly reject the argument that licensing laws should reflect sporting timetables and television schedules”.
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