FIFA marketing sparks frustration

2010-05-13 16:12

Johannesburg – "Welcome to the Republic of FIFA," read a recent newspaper headline, highlighting the frustrations of South Africans who feel the world football governing body has an iron grip on "their" World Cup.

"FIFA is the only entity to benefit from the World Cup," complained Grant Abramhamse, an aspiring entrepreneur who wanted to make key chains to sell to fans during the tournament.

But FIFA told Abramhamse his key chains – decorated with the South African flag, the year 2010 and the vuvuzela trumpet beloved by local fans – were infringing on its copyright.

"This is David and Goliath. I am David, FIFA is Goliath," he said, as the country gears up for the June 11 kick-off.

Abramhamse said he got the government's permission for his project in 2004, but in 2005 received a cease-and-desist letter from FIFA, which owns the rights to the words "World Cup", "2010", "South Africa", and all combinations thereof.

"The association is dictatorial and prescriptive. They are only after it for money for themselves, and not for anybody else," said Abramhamse.

Numerous South Africans have expressed frustration with the rules FIFA has imposed on the host country, and feel deprived of their World Cup, which starts on June 11.

Ambush marketing

The global football body has opened 451 cases of ambush marketing, aiming to protect its official partners who have spent fortunes to win exclusive rights to the brand.

With Emirates as its official airline partner, FIFA demanded that South African budget carrier Kulula withdraw an ad declaring itself "the unofficial national carrier of the you-know-what", with images of a stadium and a footballer.

FIFA brushes off the authoritarian tag, saying "the majority of cases is settled in dialogue with the infringers."

"FIFA is much more lenient with (small businesses), always embarking on an educational and non-aggressive approach," it said.

But FIFA won an order stopping production of lollipops with a World Cup theme, and forced a sports bar in Pretoria to pull down banners from its roof celebrating the tournament.

"A lollipop, really? Can they disturb the World Cup? The lollipop-maker is not going to take away the revenues of an official sponsor," said trademark attorney Andre van der Merwe.

"They are very aggressive. I think because of that, people are looking forward to the World Cup but they are not very fond of FIFA," he said. "They think FIFA is taking over the country."

Rules to regulate activity

Aside from the marketing rules, the nine host cities have also had to adopt rules to regulate activity around the stadiums, the fan park viewing areas, and other official sites.

"Any advertising in certain areas is basically prohibited, unless you get a special permission of city council. It's an extremely broad prohibition," said constitutional lawyer Pierre de Vos.

"If the rules are strictly enforced, there are going to be freedom of expression problems," he said. "These restrictions are quite draconian."

"There are very severe restrictions on trading, not only immediately outside the stadium but also in the vicinity of the stadium, around fan parks," he said. "They seem to me to be quite excessive."

"Many of the rules are here to protect financial interests of FIFA. It has nothing to do with the successful hosting of the World Cup."

De Vos fears that could mean that South Africans could see only limited benefits from the World Cup.

"If the economic benefits are not as high as people had hoped, people will become more disillusioned with FIFA," he said.