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World Cup 2014: festival of football or alcohol?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 10 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3772
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1Suffolk, UK
  1. jgornall{at}

Whichever country hoists aloft the World Cup trophy on 13 July, the real winner will be the alcohol industry, finds Jonathan Gornall

At the end of last year, Home Office minister Norman Baker was adamant. Despite an energetic campaign by the British Beer and Pub Association to persuade him to “back Roy’s boys” in Brazil, he announced he would not be relaxing licensing laws to allow pubs to stay open longer during the 2014 World Cup.

The 2003 Licensing Act gives the secretary of state the power to do so for an occasion of “exceptional international, national or local significance”; at the time it had been exercised just twice, for the royal wedding in 2011 and the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012.

The World Cup, said Baker, was not on a par with those one-off events. Furthermore, he feared the public safety consequences: police had had to mount “a substantial policing operation” for the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships.1

But within three months, a determined alcohol industry, fresh from its victory over minimum unit pricing2 and, as usual, aided and abetted in the House of Commons by its friends in the all party parliamentary beer group,3 4 had forced the government into another humiliating U-turn over its alcohol policies.

On 3 February 2014, the prime minister announced on Twitter that he had “ordered a rethink.” A brief consultation followed,5 and by the end of March the industry was celebrating “really great news, which will put pubs at the heart of a great national event”—and one which, it predicted, would see about £20m (€25m; $34m) pumped into the pub trade between the start of the World Cup on 12 June and the final on 13 July.

In the UK, football and alcohol are inextricably …

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