FIFA's Shame

There's a pretty remarkable story coming out of South Africa this morning. A group of women wearing dresses provided by the Dutch beer company Bavaria were ejected from a game and now face criminal charges.
Official sponsor Budweiser is the only beer company allowed to advertise within Fifa venues and Fifa fiercely protects its lucrative marketing interests.

When the women refused to leave the stadium, they were forcibly removed by stewards and taken to a Fifa office where they claim they were interrogated for three hours and threatened with six month in prison.
There are a few interlocking issues here, and it's worth teasing them apart. One issue involves protecting sponsorship rights. This is the one thin reed on which FIFA and the South African government may hang their defense. Bud wants to protect not only the millions it spent but also the right to cash in on the publicity. Fair enough. But then we get into what appears to be pretty indefensible territory. For one, private citizens now face criminal charges, which does nothing to punish the offending beer company--if indeed it has violated any law. If the women aren't employees of the company (apparently they were recruited by Bavaria and given tickets to the game), this gets into sticky human rights territory. You can't protect a sponsorship right by punishing individuals who use clothing as speech. Imagine if a bunch of Oregonians showed up in World Cup Deschutes t-shirts. Should they face jail time?

Finally, Budweiser should be held to account.
Peer Swinkels, from Bavaria beer, said people “should have the right to wear what they want”. “The Dutch people are a little crazy about orange and we wear it on public holidays and events like the World Cup,” he said. "This time we put no branding on the dress. And Fifa don't have a monopoly over orange."

The now stateless multinational giant was once a proud American company, and Americans take enormous pride in the right of free expression. Someone from the Budweiser wing of AmBev needs to stand up and condemn FIFA and the South African government for trying to press forward with criminal charges. The women were taken out of the game, so Bud was protected. But threatening them with jail time for wearing skimpy beer-company-provided skirts? Un-American.