Brazil World Cup Sponsors Seek Assurance on Street Protests

World Cup soccer sponsors are asking the Brazilian government how it will deal with street protests that might erupt during this year’s tournament, the marketing director of the sport’s governing body said.

World Cup sponsorships by companies including Coca-Cola Co. and Adidas AG are the second-biggest funding source for FIFA, soccer’s governing body. In return, the companies get exclusive rights to use sport’s most-watched event as a marketing platform. The World Cup starts June 12 in Sao Paulo.

During last year’s Confederations Cup, a warm up for the main tournament, Brazil experienced the biggest demonstrations in a generation. Protestors clashed with police in every city that hosted games, airing complaints about poor public services as $11 billion was being spent towards readying the country to host the monthlong World Cup.

“We have those discussions between us, with the commercial affiliates, with the government,” Thierry Weil, FIFA’s marketing director, told reporters in Rio de Janeiro yesterday.

Companies have asked about the government’s expectations about the possibility of more violence during the games this summer, and how police, army and other forces might respond, Weil said.

During the Confederations Cup, sponsors took action to avoid being targeted by protesters as police frequently fired tear gas, rubber bullets and percussion grenades to foil demonstrations close to stadiums. Coca-Cola covered a specially created unit in front of Rio’s Maracana stadium, and an oversize Coke bottle was hidden from view with black plastic.

Keeping Plans

Sponsors paid $404 million to be associated with the World Cup last year, according to FIFA’s latest financial report. Companies are not planning to reduce the number of guests they bring or change their promotional strategies for the World Cup, Weil said.

The protests during the Confederations Cup took authorities by surprise, and Brazil’s federal and city governments have told FIFA and sponsors that they are ready for any repeat during the World Cup, he said.

“We had some crisis management meetings about how do we now get the people, especially the teams, to the stadiums, what can be done, and so on and so forth,” he said. “We just hope that we’ll never need it, but you can plan for the case that there will be some manifestations.”

FIFA found itself the focus of protesters’ chants and last year a bus carrying staff was pelted with stones in the city of Belo Horizonte. In the same town, a car dealership selling vehicles produced by Kia Motors Corp., part-owned by FIFA sponsor Hyundai Motor Co., was set alight.

Making Plans

In a December interview Osama Miura, president of Sony Corp.’s Brazil unit, said that plans will be drawn up for demonstrations during the World Cup.

Protests erupted this week in Copacabana following the death of a dancer known as DG, who residents claim was shot by police. Yesterday two main roads traversing the beachside neighborhood were temporarily closed, and police fired tear gas grenades.

Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, said the incident was “sad,” though suggested reports of the violence had been exaggerated, comparing coverage to reports about riots in Paris’s poor suburbs in 2005 that made it seem “like World War II.” FIFA will host its biggest World Cup screening area in Copacabana.

“There is not a single country where there are not problems on the day-to-day,” Valcke told reporters in Rio today.

Groups including an anarchist movement known locally as the Black Bloc have already announced plans for disruptions during the tournament. Deco, a Brazilian-born former Portuguese national team player, said in an interview today tourists wouldn’t be targeted by demonstrators.

Protests “could happen but I hope they are peaceful and people don’t try and take advantage of the World Cup,” he said.

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