Dutch brewery Bavaria is providing legal assistance to two Dutch “beer dress babes” who were arrested at their hotel in Johannesburg over a sponsorship row. The company says it supports the women, who appeared in court on Wednesday over allegations of organising a marketing stunt.
The pair were among 36 women who were removed from the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg during the Holland-Denmark World Cup match on Monday. The group arrived at the match dressed as Danish supporters, but soon stripped off their red and white gear to reveal orange mini-dresses marketed by the Dutch brewery Bavaria.
When their outfits were noticed by FIFA representatives, the “babes” were held for the duration of the match. Three Dutch women in the group were subsequently taken for questioning for two hours. One of them, Barbara Castelein, says they were put under considerable pressure by the South African authorities, treated roughly and threatened with six-month prison sentences.
Ms Castelein and another Dutch woman were arrested on Tuesday because of indications their flights to South Africa were paid for by a third party. They were bailed for a reported 10,000 rand - around 1,000 euros each - but both women's passports have been confiscated.
The international football association FIFA has lodged a criminal complaint against Bavaria, accusing the Dutch company of an “ambush marketing” stunt – the term used for the exploitation of a sponsored event by a non-sponsor. FIFA is obliged to protect the official sponsor of the World Cup, US brewer Budweiser.
Bavaria has issued a statement in response to the accusations, saying: "There is no way FIFA can hold these ladies responsible for their attendance at the match in their Dutch Dress in Soccer City and Bavaria is currently doing everything in their power to assist the arrested Dutch ladies.
"Bavaria’s intention with the Dutch Dresses has always been to generate pleasure and enthusiasm amongst the football fans. This was very well understood and appreciated by the international audience in and around the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. The Dutch Dresses don’t have a big brand name logo."
The dress has become very popular in the Netherlands and caused a minor “beer war” even before the start of the World Cup. Sylvia van der Vaart, wife of Dutch soccer star Rafael, played a prominent role in the Bavaria campaign – rather embarrassingly for rival Dutch brewer Heineken, the sponsor of the Dutch national team.
The World Cup's official beer sponser, Budweiser, has attempted to distance itself from the latest row. In a statement, its parent company AB InBev said it had only become aware of the incident through the media, adding: "We are focussing on Budweiser's promotional campaigns within the framework of official beer sponsorship, both within and beyond the point of sale, which is how we reach our customers and football fans."
Meanwhile former international footballer Robbie Earle, one of the World Cup pundits for British commercial television channel ITV, has been sacked "with immediate effect" for breaching FIFA rules by passing dozens of tickets to third parties. The tickets were allocated to Earle for his family and friends. Between 35 and 40 of them are believed to have gone to the marketing company used by Bavaria.
Robbie Earle said: “I have absolutely no connection with any marketing ambush agency and have not profited in any way from these tickets. Call me naïve, but I didn't think I was doing anything wrong.”
If he is found guilty of breaking FIFA’s rules he will also be dropped as one of England’s official ambassadors in its bid for the 2018 World Cup.