5 April ~ Contracts for official World Cup sponsorship have been sewn up for ages. Official partners include Adidas and Emirates, World Cup sponsors include Budweiser and tons of other international, corporate ties exist between FIFA and companies with vaguely World Cup-related products, from deodorant to solar energy. FIFA will defend these relationships with its life. Sadly, they are its life.
Since South Africa was awarded the World Cup, FIFA and the government have controversially demonstrated their willingness to remove people from their homes to pave way for a "successful" event. In 2006, FIFA even demonstrated their willingness to remove people from their trousers when, before the Holland v Ivory Coast, they asked Dutch fans to remove their orange lederhosen. The garments were branded by Bavaria beer and therefore infringed on Budweiser's World Cup beer status. Many Dutch watched their team's victory in their underwear.
Now FIFA have even told low-budget South African airline Kulula that they must remove ads describing the firm as "the unofficial national carrier of you-know-what". According to FIFA this slogan, and last month's accompanying images, amounted to "ambush marketing" and Kulula have been forced to remove them. FIFA say that the company, known for their quirky adverts, had sought "to gain a promotional benefit by creating an unauthorised association with the 2010 FIFA World Cup". The Kulula advertisement used the national flag, footballs, and plastic vuvuzela trumpets, and according to FIFA it is the “combined use of these elements" which is banned.
Kulula's response to the ban has been dignified and hilarious. They initially withdrew the offensive adverts and said: "We're surprised at this FIFA complaint but have to be respectful because FIFA has very stringent rules." Then they hit back with a second, full-page advertisement in the Sunday Times on March 21, which mocks FIFA's approach to any marketing associating an unlicensed company with South Africa in 2010. The page reads: "Not next year, not last year, but somewhere in between."
The centre shows a bridge strongly resembling the Cape Town World Cup stadium. It is then illustrated with golf tees which look like vuvuzela, but are labelled: "Definitely, definitely a golf tee." Around the border hang pieces of cloth with the question: "Colourful beach towel? Flag?" And at the bottom a man stands in footballer-like pose wearing boot-like footwear, but without studs. The caption reads: "They're running shoes."
Despite all the lucrative and exclusive contracts that have been bulging out of FIFA's drawers for months, even years, there may still be room for one more official sponsor at this year's World Cup – on the North Korean team's shirts. Korea DPR, as they are officially known, are the only team not to have officially announced their kit manufacturer yet. They recently severed ties with Hummel and have since courted and worn many other brands. At the moment, no one is quite certain who will produce their red shirts for this summer's tournament.
National associations are of course responsible for their own sportswear deals. But while Adidas, Puma and the like continually fight over countries whose teams have even the slightest chances of international success, all these big, politically-sensitive brands have steered clear of Korea DPR. The North Koreans are, however, something of a hot property among the smaller sportswear manufacturers looking to make a name for themselves. At the moment both Chinese sportswear brand Erke and Mexican company Pirma are claiming that they will sponsor Korea DPR's World Cup kits. Erke sponsored the team at the 2008 Olympics and their name was emblazoned on their shirts when Korea DPR ensured World Cup qualification against South Arabia.
At the time, Erke responded to criticism from human-rights campaigners by saying: "As a sports brand, our focus is on sports excellence and showmanship, not politics." However, their spokeswoman went on to say that they "hope Chinese consumers will carry positive associations with Erke since China and North Korea have long ties".
Mexico and North Korea do not have long ties. But Pirma clearly understand the boost World Cup exposure would give their brand. At the Mexico v Korea DPR friendly on March 18, the North Koreans came out sporting red Pirma shirts. But this doesn't necessarily mean Pirma have won the brand war. Only days earlier, when visiting Caracus for another friendly, the North Koreans had to borrow kits from their Venezuelan hosts, made by yet another manufacturer. What exactly Korea DPR will be wearing this summer may remain a mystery right up until they kick off against Brazil on June 15. Simon Cotterill