As the World Cup opening date looms and the fever mounts, South Africans are being subjected to heavy propaganda to jolly them into becoming patriotic supporters of the event, demonstrating their pride in the nation. Mostly this seems to be interpreted as buying something – a t shirt, sweatshirt, cap, scarf, flag…. This would be good for South African trade I would have thought, and for an embattled local textile industry, but a short excursion last week into World Cup land suggested that it is only good for trade marks.
I had decided that I did not want to enter into the hype by jumping up and down in a yellow shirt and blowing a horn. My unwillingness did not have to do with any lack of support for soccer, but rather with the way in which FIFA appears to have hijacked our country, forcing us into its own very commercialized and Eurocentric version of what a soccer World Cup should be, rather than the very much livelier and more democratic event that a truly South African soccer cup would have been. And so I decided that I would instead appoint a surrogate supporter, in the form of a soccer-mad seven-year-old in Khayelistsha and buy him some of the gear so that he could be an enthusiastic supporter.
Thus I found myself shopping for a child-sized yellow Bafana soccer shirt in a very big shopping complex in a suburban centre one weekday afternoon. Trailing from shop to shop, I rapidly realised that I was accompanied by a throng of other potential customers all engaged in the same exercise. South African shops are pretty good and you can normally find what you want. However, here we all were, all shapes, sizes, ages, income levels, potential customers every one of us, all vainly seeking the holy grail of a world cup t-shirt for some soccer-crazy child. A wonderfully large captive market, I would have thought, a really good revenue-earner, a boost for local trade.
It soon became apparent what the problem was – Trade Marks. Only goods branded with the ‘official FIFA product’ status could be sold. But why were they not everywhere, so that all these shoppers could buy them? Because they are too expensive. And boring. But surely Trade Marks are supposed to promote and not inhibit trade? And in any event, the fashion trade seems to operate better without this IP apparatus, as Johanna Blakely made so gloriously evident in her recent TED talk about how well fashion does without the apparatus of IP protection. Continue reading