RIO DE JANEIRO – FIFA's number two official has said he's "amazed" by the levels of drunkenness in Brazil's World Cup stadiums, reviving a debate over whether alcohol sales should have been allowed at matches in the first place.
In an interview with Brazil's sports television network SporTV, Jerome Valcke acknowledged Monday that "maybe there were too many people who were drunk" at the matches and pointed to the connection between inebriation and violence.
Brazil banned alcohol sales at soccer matches in 2003 in a bid to curb fan violence. But Budweiser is a major World Cup sponsor and the tournament's organizer, FIFA, insisted Brazil lift the ban in order to host the month-long event. Lawmakers opposed to lifting the ban delayed the passage of a World Cup law that gave FIFA financial and legal guarantees to organize the event, and the issue became a major source of friction between FIFA and Brazilian officials.
During the protracted debate over the legislation, Valcke stated in 2012 that in-stadium beer sales were a key part of World Cup tradition and that lifting Brazil's ban was non-negotiable.
In Monday's SporTV interview, Valcke appeared to soften his position, saying alcohol sales are "something we have to look at."
"If we think that it is necessary to control (alcohol sales) we will control them," said Valcke, who spoke in English through a Portuguese translator. "We would never put the organization of a match at risk."
Fan violence has broken out at several matches here, including Saturday's Colombia-Uruguay match in Rio de Janeiro, where stewards had to intervene to separate hostile spectators. Following the match, apparently inebriated Argentine fans celebrating their team's victory over Iran on June 21 caused a dust-up in the central Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.
Valcke stressed that in-stadium beer sales have never been a problem in previous World Cups.
"I was amazed by the number of people who were drunken and the level of alcohol" in Brazil, he said, adding "I was a bit surprised."
The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to be held in Qatar, a Gulf state where alcohol consumption in public is forbidden.