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‘Ambushing’, marketing and FIFA 0

The recent arrest of two Dutch women for ‘ambush marketing’ at South Africa’s World Cup Soccer City stadium has revealed the legislative influence FIFA has exerted on its host, writes Alex Free. Pointing out that FIFA has acquired the nickname ‘Thiefa’ among some quarters, Free takes a look at who is really doing the ‘ambushing’.

In the wake of recent reports on the arrests of two Dutch women accused of ‘ambush marketing’ for a non-official product, questions should again be raised about FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) role in the South African World Cup and the organisation’s drain on a country’s public finances.

In an internationally reported incident, a total of some 36 women were ejected from the Soccer City stadium during the Netherlands–Denmark game – the majority of whom were reportedly white South Africans – with Dutch nationals Barbara Castelien and Mirthe Nieuwpoort subsequently arrested and charged.

The scandal led to the sacking of former Jamaica international and pundit for British broadcaster ITV Robbie Earle, who was implicated by virtue of having given tickets to a third party who subsequently sold them on to Bavaria, the brewer behind the contentious marketing strategy.


The stadium arrests were on the strength of alleged ‘ambush marketing’. At the 2010 World Cup this is a practice, which consists in attempting to promote a product or service, that is not officially sanctioned by FIFA, specifically via sneakily ducking under the official radar before ultimately emerging to great attention and fanfare.

In this archetypal case, the ambushing apparently took the form of a group of female fans disguising themselves as Denmark followers, only to morph into a scantily-clad, dancing blonde troupe sporting orange dresses well known to Bavaria drinkers in Europe. The South African women involved were looked upon sympathetically by the authorities and not arrested, while the country’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) ultimately dropped all charges against Castelien and Nieuwpoort following pressure from the Dutch government and the derision implicit within the attention of the media.

Though on the surface a quasi-comic instance of an institution’s pretence towards a level of control beyond its status, the event has been most significant as a further example of FIFA capacity to bend the tournament to its own corporate interests at the expense of the broader benefits it has touted for South Africans at large.

While it has speedily distanced itself in the face of pressure from a relatively powerful Western government and international media alert to a potential damsels-in-distress narrative, the governing body’s ability to oblige the South African state to restrict opportunities for local and ‘informal’ traders, divert public funding towards short-lived infrastructural projects and evict local residents has been well documented by alternative media channels.

In many respects it is regrettable that FIFA has been forced through its actions to tacitly backtrack and admit heavy-handedness when faced with Dutch pressure and international media attention, while at the same time largely escaping mainstream, broader scrutiny around its own ambushing of the South African state and people when it comes to the fundamental structures underpinning the hosting of the World Cup.

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By Alex FreePambazuka News

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