State Duma deputy: “The higher beer consumption, the lower the mortality”

The bill to return beer to football stadiums has again been introduced to the State Duma — the idea is promoted by the president of Tatarstan

Two deputies from the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) have introduced to the State Duma the bill proposing to return beer to stadiums, and the money received from its implementation to invest in the development of youth sports. The authors of the project thus refer to international experience, in particular, FIFA and UEFA. Realnoe Vremya online newspaper, having carefully studied the bill, remembered from where — or rather, from whom — the idea of returning beer to the football arena came from, which agencies agree with it, and who is categorically against it.

MPs propose to lift the ban on the sale of beer

Amendments to the federal law regulating the production, distribution of alcohol and the development of physical culture and sports have recently been introduced to the Russian State Duma. The authors of the initiative — LDPR deputies Igor Lebedev and Dmitry Svishchev — propose not to extend the ban on the retail sale of beer and beer drinks, carried out by organizations and entrepreneurs on the basis of contracts with the organizers of sports events, in the provision of catering services by these organizations during the matches of official football competitions (except for the time of children's and youth sports events).

The authors of the project indicate that it is possible to spend the funds received by the organizers of the events from the sale of beer to finance the activities for the development of professional and youth sports. “This draft federal law has been prepared taking into account the existing needs of sports organizations in additional sources of funding for their activities and provides for the creation of conditions for the direction of part of the budgets of brewing companies to support and develop sports,” the deputies note.

“It is a worldwide practice”: the authors of the bill refer to the experience of FIFA and UEFA

In the explanatory note, Lebedev and Svishchev write that the practice of sponsoring professional sports events by brewing companies is widespread all over the world, moreover, “all rights to advertising during international sports competitions belong not to their local organizers, but to international sports federations”:

“Regardless of the venue of the next event, the federations comply with their obligations to their advertisers. For example, the advertising of the sponsors IOC, FIFA, UEFA during all sporting events and in all arenas, as well as during TV broadcasts, is mandatory.”

Then the deputies give examples. For example, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games appointed the British division of the company Heineken (beer producer) as the official sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. And the title sponsor of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), responsible for all the Olympic games, as well as one of the key partners of the World Cup is the Budweiser brand, owned by American Anheuser-Bush Inc.

The authors of the bill admit that the idea to return beer to football stadiums is based on the experience of the World Cup in Russia. Historically, beer companies in any case were and are sponsors of football teams around the world (Carlsberg and Liverpool football club, Heineken and UEFA Champions League, Paulaner Brewery and Bavaria, Borussia and Bitburger). Beer, in addition, “is allowed at football matches in almost all European countries — in Germany, England, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Hungary and many others”. As a result, “beer producers are willing to cooperate with football clubs and invest in the development of football significant funds received also as a result of permitted trade in stadiums during matches. Earlier, before the ban on beer advertising in 2005, “Russian football also coexisted peacefully with beer”, for example, Stariy Melnik was the official sponsor of the Russian national football team, Baltika sponsored Zenit. The 2005 ban was only temporarily lifted during last year's World Cup. “Fears about the use of beer during football matches are greatly exaggerated,” said in the explanatory note.

At the suggestion of Minnikhanov: where the idea to return beer to stadiums comes from

In fact, the initiator of the launch of the new bill was President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, who asked “to return the beer to the stadiums for the sake of the Orthodox believers” last year. He justified the proposal to Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the sports council and the Council of the Russia 2018 Organising Committee in Kaliningrad with “concern for Orthodox brothers”. He also added that in Kazan during the World Cup beer was sold for 89 million rubles and “no excesses, no problems”.

“I'd like to see... First, after all, the man loves beer, and second, after all the product...” the Tatarstan president noted.

“Not everyone drinks beer, in Tatarstan, maybe they like it more,” Putin joked.

“Of course, I am ashamed to speak as a Muslim about beer, but I care about our brothers, Orthodox believers,” Minnikhanov said then.

“Well, once the Muslims ask, we'll see,” said the president.

ROC — against, Russian ministry of sports and the Premier League — for

The ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) almost the next day expressed its — negative, of course — attitude to the initiative to allow the free sale of beer in stadiums during sporting events. Valery Doronkin, the representative of the Church, head of the coordination centre for combating alcoholism and affirming sobriety of the Synodal Department of the Moscow Patriarchate for Charity, admitted that the Orthodox believers really do not have a complete ban on alcohol consumption, “but we are against drunkenness, against alcohol consumption in public places, against the free sale of alcohol. Orthodox does not mean drunk, drunkenness is considered a terrible sin.” Therefore, the ROC is “categorically against the proposal”.

The easing itself with the sale of beer at the stadiums last year was due to the unyielding stance of FIFA, which pushed through the federal law signed by Putin in 2013 and allowing the retail sale of alcohol, sold by the federation and its partners. As a result, eight forbidden zones for the sale of alcohol were introduced in Kazan during the 2018 World Cup matches, but the beer was available at the stadium and in the fan zone. The Russian Premier League, whose President Sergey Pryadkin in May 2018 said that the league expected to resume negotiations and attract beer brands as sponsors, is also in favour of lifting the ban. In 2014, the ministry of economic development of the Russian Federation offered to return the beer to the stadiums (unsuccessfully). After the initiative of Minnikhanov in November last year in favour of lifting the ban on the sale of alcohol, Minister of Sports of Russia Pavel Kolobkov also spoke out: “The issue of beer should be discussed in conjunction with the heritage of sports facilities and their operation. We have experience in selling beer at sporting events. The sale of beer does not affect the behaviour of the fans,” he assured.

“From 2008 to 2016, the incidence of alcoholic psychosis decreased”

However, in May 2019, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation on Social Policy Tatyana Golikova opposed, saying that she was categorically against “such a return and such a rollback”:

“Because I know how difficult it is to overcome and how expensive it is in terms of contribution to the health of a particular citizen.”

She considers it wrong to abandon the achievements in the fight against alcohol consumption (where Russia managed to achieve a “good delayed effect”), from the “absolute achievements of the country”. The ministry of health of the Russian Federation also reacted negatively about the idea of returning alcohol to the stadiums:

“We do not support this initiative, as it is insufficiently justified, and the successful 2018 World Cup is not an indicator,” they stated and cited statistics: from 2008 to 2016, the incidence of alcoholic psychosis decreased from 80,35 to 40,6 per 100,000 population, registered retail sales of alcoholic beverages in Russia from 2008 to 2017 decreased by 22%, from 1,373 million litres of ethanol to 1,073 million litres, respectively.

“There is a direct link between beer consumption and life expectancy”

Ayrat Khayrullin, a deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation from Tatarstan, can no longer be attributed to the so-called “beer lobby”: in the past, the owner of Krasny Vostok brewery, he later abandoned the beer business in favour of agriculture. Nevertheless, in an interview with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya, he actually spoke in support of the Minnikhanov’s initiative:

“I really have been engaged in the production of beer for many years. I was interested in this question. Now, there are three kinds of countries if we go from south to north: wine countries, beer countries, and spirits countries. So the Finns, who take lightly to alcohol, there are studies that have a direct relationship between beer consumption and life expectancy: the greater the consumption of beer, the lower the mortality. Such studies were also conducted in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, England. Brewing is a very deep and serious culture. Beer is called in Europe “liquid bread”, it is not considered alcohol. But here, in Russia, at some point beer was removed from the category of alcoholic beverages.

“The term ‘beer alcoholism’ was coined in Russia”

However subsequently, the deputy and former brewer noted that in Russia there was a sudden turn when we began to fight against beer, to limit its sale, advertising. The excise rate was raised. There was a sharp drop in beer consumption per capita, but the Russians, says Ayrat Khayrullin, did not begin to drink less: they just began to drink more spirits, and illegal, surrogates, “samogon, colognes”.

“The question is very delicate and cautious. It should be approached be without emotion. The term ‘beer alcoholism’ was coined in Russia. Meanwhile, the brewing industry, hops have a very positive impact on the development of agriculture, cattle, etc. It is a pity that the past 12-13 years experimented on the ban. I believe that Rustam Minnikhanov acted in this matter in a balanced and correct way, putting emotions aside. Beer consumption is unlimited in football stadiums all over the world, and breweries invest a lot of money in support of sports. But we are constantly coming up with prohibitive models.”

“What happens if we return beer to football fans?”

Chairman of Sober Bashkortostan organisation Marat Abdullin disagrees with the arguments of Khayrullin and considers the new bill an attempt of the “beer lobby” to push through their point of view. For the first time, in December of last year, deputies failed to achieve anything “on impulse”:

“The same people are trying to justify the opinion that the alleged beer is not alcohol! Therefore it is not necessary to treat it, they say, as alcohol. To lift the ban on alcohol advertising. We see these steps. But, as I understand it, there are issues in Russia, the solution of which depends on the decision of a particular leadership,” he said in an interview with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya, referring to the president of Russia.

He reminded that although the idea was originally announced by the president of Tatarstan, the main engine of the bill and the idea of returning beer to the stadiums — “beer lobby”. According to Abdullin's calculations, the annual turnover of the beer market in Russia is 4-5 trillion rubles. Therefore, the possibilities of lobbying brewers are “huge”, concludes the activist.

“I think, despite it, the bill has little prospects. Putin considers it premature. And the position of the Russian authorities in general on the criminogenic component is very tough: as there is enough crime and mortality, especially intoxicated. What happens if we return beer to football fans? Isn't the criminogenic component going to increase? The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs will definitely be against the bill,” says Abdullin.

The namesake of Abdullin, but from among football fans of Rubin, disagree with that crime can increase in football stadiums:

“It's more good than bad. I don't think there will be any problems with beer at the stadium. Now the society has become more educated. They do not take beer through security: you will not find drunk people even in the fan sector,” said Marat Abdullin, one of the leaders of the sports public organization The Fan Club of Rubin FC, and supported the return of beer to the stadiums.

By Sergey Afanasyev, Alexander Artemyev