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Football and Beer Come Face to Face in Panama

Football and beer, two main interests for many Panamanians, have come into conflict after the Baru-Panamá [es] brewery seized the bank accounts of the Panamanian Football Federation (FEPAFUT), demanding compensation of $7 million dollars for a breached contract.

Cocoas [es] reported it as follows on April 25, 2013:

No malas, son terribles noticias para la Federación Panameña de Fútbol que hoy tiró la bomba de que Cervecería del Barú ha secuestrado a la FEPAFUT por un monto superior a los seis millones de balboas. ¡Oye! Ese no es relajo de plata…

This is not only bad, but terrible news for the Panamanian Football Federation, who dropped the bomb today that the Barú Brewery has seized the FEPAFUT for an amount more than six million dollars. Listen! This is no joke with money…

In Panama, beer consumption produces $390 million dollars annually, making the country one of the top producers and consumers in Latin America. According to Central América Data [es]:

El mercado vale más de $390 millones al año y es controlado por dos grandes empresas: la Cervecería Nacional, subsidiaria de SabMiller, y Cervecería Barú- Panamá, bajo el control de Heineken N.V. El año pasado se produjeron 247,2 millones de litros de cerveza, 5,1% más que en 2010, una cifra muy superior a la del seco (6 millones de litros) y el ron (7,2 millones de litros), según cifras de la Contraloría General.

The market is worth over $390 million per year and is controlled by two large companies: the National Brewery, a subsidiary of SabMiller, and the Barú-Panamá Brewery, under the control of Heineken N.V. Last year 247.2 million liters of beer were produced, 5.1% more than in 2010, a number far larger than that of seco (6 million liters) and rum (7.2 million liters), according to numbers from the General Accounting Office.

On the other hand, football has experienced rapid growth in Panama, attracting thousands of fans to matches to watch the Panamanian national team, which finds itself closer than ever to qualifying for the World Cup for the first time. FIFA [es] considers Panama the country that has experienced the most rapid progress in the area of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), as they comment on their website:

Partido de fútbol, Panamá. Foto de Eirene Moreno, usada con permiso.

Football match, Panama. Photo by Eirene Moreno, used with permission.

En cuanto a Panamá, a pesar de caer en la final, volvió a poner de manifiesto que es la nación que más rápido está progresando en el ámbito de la CONCACAF, y obtuvo el pase a su segunda competición mundial sub-17 consecutiva tras realizar varios partidos sensacionales.

As far as Panama [es] goes, despite losing in the final, it came back to show it is the most rapidly progressing nation in the CONCACAF field, and it advanced to its second consecutive Under-17 world competition after having a few sensational matches.

The brewery had a contract until December 2014 with the principal football entity in Panama, but it was suspended in December 2012 when the Panamanian football federation signed a contract with the National Brewery for $10 million until 2018, (the contract with Barú was for $120,000 a year).

The confiscation became known when the members of the Panamanian Under-17 team, recently qualifying for the world cup in their category, tried to collect the prizes they won in the competition. La Prensa [es] quoted the President of the Panamanian Football Federation, Pedro Chaluja:

“Desconocemos la descomposición de estos siete millones de balboas, porque no han recibido formalmente la demanda y no hemos sido notificados. Solo sabemos que hay un secuestro, el cual nos pudimos percatar cuando los jugadores de la Sub 17 no pudieron cobrar sus cheques de premio”

“We do not know the break down of these seven million dollars because they have not formally received the demand and we have not been notified. All we know is that there is a seizure, which we were able to notice when the Under-17 players could not collect their winning checks.”

Reactions on social networks waited for no one and many felt betrayed by the action taken by the Baru brewery.

George Haywood (@25haywood) [es] believes the seizure not only affects the federation but also Panamanians’ future:

@25haywood: Al secuestrar a la fepafut secuestran el fútbol de Panamá y el futuro de muchos jóvenes.

@25haywood: By seizing the fepafut they seize Panama's football and the future of many young people.

The Vía Noticias account (@traficologo) [es] called for a boycott to stop the purchase of any Baru brewery products:

@Traficologo : Fanático panameño: no compres productos de Cervecería Barú y @cerveza_panama. Sus acciones contra @fepafut afectan a la selección de #Panama

@Traficologo: Panama fans: don't buy products from Barú brewery and @cerveza_panama. Their actions against @fepafut affect the #Panama national team.

Rodrigo Tomás (@rodtomas18) [es] believes that Panama's advancement to the World Cup is being put at risk with this measure:

Cerveza Panamá. Foto de usuario de Flickr Daniel Huggar, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Cerveza Panamá. Photo from Flickr user Daniel Huggard, under the Creative Commons License (CC BY-ND 2.0)

@rodtomas18: Estos extranjeros de @cerveza_panama tendran IDEA de lo q significa La Roja para nosotros? Estan arriesgando nuestros planes de Mundial!

@rodtomas18: Do these foreigners from @cerveza_panama have any IDEA what La Roja [Panamanian national team] means to us? They are putting our World Cup plans at risk!

Nino Mangravita (@ninomangravita) [es], however, believes that what happens between Fepafut and the brewery has nothing to do with attending the World Cup but is rather a business matter:

@ningomangravita: todos queremos que nuestra selección gane, es un sentimiento.. pero lo que está pasando entre Fepafut y CB son negocios, deben solucionarlo.

@ningomangravita: we all want our team to win, it's a feeling… but what is happening between Fepafut and CB is business, they should resolve it.

Jacinto Gonzalez (@JacintoElias) follows the same line of thought and believes that a contract should be respected at any given moment:

@JacintoElias: @lilyvargastv Contrato es Contrato, Fepafut pensó q como era epoca de eliminatorias cerveceria Panama no iba a actuar. Panameño juega vivo

@JacintoElias@lilyvargastv A Contract is a Contract, Fepafut thought that since it was the qualifiers, the Panama brewery would not act. Panamanians like to have the upper hand

Cevecería Baru has come out in their defense posting a letter on their blog where they clarify that it is not their intention to affect football but rather negotiate [es] and find a figure that will be satisfactory for both parties.

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