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Brazilians Watching Construction

Brazilians watch a stadium for the FIFA World Cup 2014 being constructed in Cuiaba, Mato Grosso State, on January 29. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images)

2014 World Cup Match: FIFA-1, Brazil-?

The wealthy international soccer organization forces tax and labor-law exemptions on the next host of the games.

BY Rebecca Burns

The proposed law would create exceptions to existing intellectual property law to allow FIFA to trademark anything that it considers an "official symbol."

What is the name of a soccer-loving Swiss nonprofit that demands tax exemptions and concessions on workers’ rights wherever it goes?

The answer, as Brazil is discovering as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup, is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) – an organization that faces a long list of corruption charges and presents an even longer list of demands for countries hosting the world’s premier sporting event. (FIFA’s status as a charity dates back to its days as a small voluntary organization.)

The Brazilian Congress is being pressured by FIFA to pass a “General World Cup Law” that would alter existing national law in a number of areas the world football body considers key to its interests – including stricter copyright protection and enforcement, ownership of all event-related images and broadcast rights and a reversal of current policy of providing half-price soccer match tickets to students and seniors.

FIFA has scolded Brazil for failing to pass the law sooner. In December 2011, Secretary General Jerome Valcke promised at a press conference following a meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee that the law would be approved by a commission considering it within the Brazilian Congress. But lawmakers decided to delay the vote, asserting that there were still too many problems with the bill and that they had only received the most recent changes to it – including language that would make Brazil broadly responsible for security incidents during the event – hours before a scheduled vote in December. They will likely consider the bill again in February.

Countries submitting bids to host the World Cup must agree to eight conditions – including tax exemption, exclusive commercial rights and visa waivers for FIFA affiliates. In October 2011, Brazilian legislators passed a law granting a comprehensive four-year tax exemption to the soccer body, its member associations and its partners – including Coca-Cola, VISA and Adidas.

Among the most controversial changes proposed by the World Cup law is a provision permitting the establishment of special courts that could try crimes such as the selling of pirated material. Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes has said that accepting FIFA’s demands and allowing the creation of separate courts would amount to issuing Brazil a “certificate of banana republic.”

The proposed law would also create exceptions to existing intellectual property law to allow FIFA to trademark anything that it considers an “official symbol” and create new categories of crimes – among them, “undue utilization of official symbols.” Trademarks registered by FIFA during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa included “World Cup 2010,” “South Africa 2010” and even “2010.” According to the Peoples’ Cup Committees (PCC), a group of activists from Brazil’s 12 World Cup host cities who oppose the bill, FIFA has already applied for more than 1,000 such trademarks in Brazil.

FIFA insists that the Brazilian government has already agreed to the conditions contained in the World Cup law, but PCC activists contend that the concessions required by FIFA were never made public. An agreement between the Brazilian executive branch and FIFA “does not have the ability to require legal changes,” a PCC representative says.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa resulted in a record $3 billion in income for the organization, $100 million of which it contributed to development projects in the country. At the end of 2010, FIFA had $1.2 billion in reserve.

Meanwhile, the South African Government spent $4.3 billion preparing for the games while attracting an estimated $1.1 billion in tourism spending – an outcome that contradicts the Brazilian government’s claim that the Cup will provide an economic boost.

According to StreetNet International, a group that organizes street vendors, as many as 100,000 informal traders lost their livelihoods in South Africa due to laws prohibiting them from selling merchandise in the vicinity of the stadiums. Such “exclusion zones” are also included in Brazil’s proposed World Cup Law, and StreetNet and local labor organizations are calling for amendments that guarantee street vendors’ right to operate in the municipalities where they are registered. The imposition of anti-labor provisions in the run-up to the World Cup, says Maira Vannuchi, a team member of StreetNet Brazil, “shows that the federal government is more concerned with having an image as a big emerging country than with the welfare of the citizens.”

Rebecca Burns is an In These Times staff writer and assistant editor based in Chicago, covering labor, housing and higher education. Her writing has also appeared in Jacobin, Truthout, AlterNet and Waging Nonviolence. She can be reached at rebecca[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns

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