King Fifa imposes ridiculous demands on World Cup host countries

21 August 2010

King Fifa imposes ridiculous demands on World Cup host countries

The federation gets away with it, because countries are afraid of missing out. The Netherlands must act to change this.

Renske Leijten is a Member of Parliament for the SP

The world football federation Fifa will on Monday begin its inspection visit to the Netherlands and Belgium whose two governments are bidding to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

In 2000 we demonstrated how well we can do that together. Everyone sang the praises of the Low Countries' joint organisation of the European Championship. Here, it was a real party. The World Cup could offer us the same again, but it must first be made clear just what the costs would be. And we should not be handing control over our country to Fifa.

Organising a world football championship costs money. One can juggle the figures, but the independent Stichting Economisch Onderzoek (Economic Research Foundation) has calculated that of the total estimated costs of €950 million, at least €150 million would not be returned in earnings. Stories of profits to be made are wishful thinking.

According to American economist Victor Matheson, income from past tournaments has been deliberately exaggerated and many reports of such gains are biased. Do such costs represent a reason not to host the World Cup? No. Everyone accepts that events cost money, but we should be honest about this. We don't want a repeat of the Betuwelijn, where a new rail link cost four times the original budget.

The organisation of the world's biggest football tournament also involves the world football federation, Fifa. The Dutch and Belgian governments have been forced to drop some of their demands and to sign contracts accordingly.

What's clear is that Fifa asks too much of the host countries. For example, they want complete exemption from taxes for all of their activities in the Netherlands, which the government admits would cost €300 million. All profits made by the world football federation on the world championship must be exempt, which cost South Africa a slice of the €3.2 billion profits of the recently concluded tournament, money which in my view South Africa could have done a great deal of good with.

But that's not all: in the vicinity of matches Fifa officials must have priority access to motorways and sponsors must be protected against so-called 'ambush marketing'. South Africa went so far as to adapt its laws to this effect, which was why the young women advertising Bavaria beer inside a stadium were thrown out and arrested. The Low Countries' governments have promised that such opportunistic laws will be introduced if this proves necessary to offer sponsors optimal protection. These sponsors will also have the sole right to sell and advertise in the streets to a distance of two kilometres (!) around each stadium.

There is, alas, still more. 'Guarantee 6', for instance, states that this restriction will apply not only to the matches themselves, but to any World Cup-related event, on demand. Should a giant screen be erected in the central square of a city, as was the case in Amsterdam's Museum Plein last time, no souvenirs, no unsponsored snacks and no drinks may be sold on the streets around if Fifa so decrees it.

A world championship is a party, as we saw this summer. It is an honour for a country to be able to welcome all those stars of football and have them play there. But what Fifa is doing goes too far. They are demanding that our country must spend six week living under its rules. Motorways for the big cheeses, no taxes for the federation, sponsors forcing out our own small businesses.

Fifa repeatedly gets away with this kind of thing, because countries are far too afraid of missing out on attractive tournaments. It's time that an end was put to this. Now that Fifa is visiting, the governments of the Netherlands and Belgium must state that the federation is not above the law. Host a World Cup, great. But without the ridiculous demands of King Fifa.

This article was first published on 7th August 2010 in the original Dutch in the Dutch national daily newspaper Trouw.

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