Don't be fooled by the World Cup beer babes
Don't be fooled by the sob story making headlines at the World Cup about the fun-loving, oh-so-sweet-and-innocent (and not coincidentally, very attractive) Dutch women who got into trouble with big, nasty FIFA for supposedly doing nothing more innocuous than wearing orange mini-dresses to a game.
This isn't the tale of good vs. evil that it seems.
The women knew exactly what they were doing, and their choice of clothes was really just a sneaky marketing ploy to get global attention for a Dutch beer.
And, wow, did it work.
The list of media that got hooked, line and sinker, is far, far, far longer than the women's hemlines.
We all got ambushed, nearly tripping over ourselves to lend a sympathetic ear to the beer babes' claims that FIFA and its henchmen had taken very unkindly to their thinly disguised scam and been a bit rough in putting an end to it. Despite the fierce winter chill, two of the women obliged for the cameras by slipping back into their skimpy dresses Tuesday for interviews in which they recounted, over and over, their terrible ordeal.
``My phone is ringing all day,'' said one of them, Barbara Castelein, as she juggled interview requests. ``I missed 29 phone calls in half an hour.''
That is what the brewery's marketing manager must be saying, too. Without having kicked in a penny to FIFA to help fund the global football party that is the World Cup, his company is getting truckloads of free publicity. More egregiously, it did so by appealing to the basest instincts of men, including this one. For those reasons, I won't name the firm.
If all companies freeloaded like this, and if FIFA did nothing to stop them, then there might not be a World Cup at all, at least not as we know it. FIFA's sponsors pay megabucks to be associated with the world's biggest single sporting event. They include Anheuser-Busch Inbev, brewer of Budweiser - official World Cup beer and the only one sold at stadiums and official fan sites. Sponsors likely wouldn't delve so deep into their pockets if competitors could muscle in on the show for free. And since FIFA needs the money to cover tournament costs and fund programs to expand football around the world it tends to robustly protect its economic interests - even if that means attracting bad publicity by scaring off blonde women drawing attention to an unofficial beer.
``If FIFA wasn't generating all these revenues, the World Cup arguably would be a much more modest affair,'' says Simon Chadwick, a sports marketing expert at Coventry University in England who said he was fascinated by the ingenuity of the beer-wheeze and who Tweeted about it energetically.
Castelein and her friend walked into this with their eyes open, and it wasn't just the bit of innocent fun that they claimed. They said the Dutch brewer covered all of their expenses to travel to South Africa and to attend matches. In return, they agreed to wear the orange mini-dresses that have the tiniest label on the thigh bearing the brewer's name.
``Of course, it's part of the deal,'' said the friend, Mirte. She refused to give her name, saying she doesn't want reporters to call the dental practice in Amsterdam where she works.
``I know the guy from (the brewery),'' said Castelein, ``and he told me a couple of months ago what their plans are with the World Cup and he told me, 'We're going to make a dress for girls to look great at the stadium.' And I thought, 'oh, that's a great idea, I want to help you.'''
In other words, they were complicit. And the brewery made it easy for reporters to get their story - it handed out Castelein's mobile phone number.
Where FIFA erred was by being more heavy-handed with the women than perhaps was necessary. That gave the women a story to tell. They said they were held for 4 hours and questioned with three dozen women who also wore the dresses to the Netherlands' opening match on Monday against Denmark. The 36 women went to the match dressed as Danish supporters but then stripped off, revealing the orange dresses underneath, 25 minutes into the game.
``We spice up the whole game, eh?'' said Mirte.
Officials weren't amused.
``They tried to scare us by telling us that we had committed a crime, and that we had broken a law and that we could get six months jail for breaking this law,'' said Mirte. ``So they were scaring a lot of girls. Some girls were really scared, they were crying and calling their parents.''
Crocodile tears, perhaps? They seem to have dried in time for the photo shoot.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.