Latin America & Caribbean

World Cup: Binocular booze smuggling gets Colombian sacked

A close-up of the binoculars containing the alcohol being held by people wearing Colombia football shirts Image copyright Alonso Rafael Gomez Castro
Image caption A man lost his job less than 24 hours after this video was posted online

All it takes is a post on Facebook.

On June 18, Luis Felipe Gómez worked for Colombian airline Avianca Cargo as the regional manager of Europe-Asia.

On June 19, a video showing a group of Colombians drinking alcohol they had sneaked inside a World Cup stadium went viral.

On June 20, Mr Gómez was identified as one of the people in the video and subsequently dismissed for accepting a drink, despite the fact that - according to him - he barely knew the people who had smuggled it in.

Mr Gómez can be seen in the video wearing a cap, with flags painted on his face and taking the first drink according to Colombian news source Pulzo.

The video was posted in good humour - a group of football fans showing off their novel ruse to sneak alcohol inside Russia's Mordovia Arena before Colombia's 1-2 defeat to Japan.

By the end of the match, the word "binoculares" was trending on Twitter in Colombia. It could be found on hundreds of different social media accounts, including those of various Colombian news websites.

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'Cultural Differences'

The Spanish-speaking media were heavily critical, with one broadcaster even accusing the people in the video of "embarrassing their country".

Radio host Jean-Pierre Serna highlighted what he called the "cultural differences" between Colombia and Japan. And others pointed out that, after the very same match, Japan fans had stayed behind to help clean up the stadium.

The people in the video were now being accused of encouraging a negative stereotype about Colombians, with many on social media comparing them to "people who put drugs in suitcases".

It even got to the point where Martin Santos, the son of Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, tweeted his disappointment at them for encouraging a stereotype.

"We think this is great but then we get angry when we get searched by security at airports," said Mr Santos on Twitter.

'Violated the Law'

In the space of a few hours, an act of foolishness in a football stadium had become one of the biggest things on social media in Colombia, and beyond.

Although not specifically citing the incident, the Colombian Foreign Ministry tweeted to urge Colombians to "respect the rules" in Russia.

So, less than a day after a video of him consuming a drink appeared on Facebook, Avianca regional manager Mr Gómez had very publicly become unemployed.

"Avianca Holdings rejects any type of act that goes against our principles and values as a company," read the statement posted on Avianca's official Twitter page.

"In accordance, we have made the decision to end the work contract of the employee from Avianca Cargo who was at the World Cup, whose behaviour violated the law and norms in place within the World Cup event, by consuming liquor which was illegally brought into one of the stadiums."

'15 seconds of badly interpreted video'

Soon, local media was reporting that Colombian authorities had requested the cancellation of Mr Gómez's Fifa Fan ID to prevent him entering any more World Cup stadiums during the tournament.

He had to speak out, if only to placate the Latin American media.

Just as it had started with a Facebook post, it ended with one.

Writing on his wife's Facebook page, Mr Gómez said he had not known he had been being filmed and "did not smuggle any type of liquor into the stadium".

"I went to say, 'Hi,' to some friends," he wrote. "They offered me a drink. I received it in a moment of euphoria and happiness because I was seeing Colombia in a World Cup.

"I am trying to grasp how 15 seconds of unfortunate, out-of-context, and badly interpreted video can end the honour of a person and an entire life of trying to do things right.

"I thank you again for your support."

On Tuesday 19 June, Luis Felipe Gómez was a regional manager watching Colombia play football at the World Cup.

And 48 hours later he was unemployed, publicly chastised and may be barred from the World Cup stadium stands - all for saying, 'Yes,' when offered a drink served from a pair of binoculars.

By Tom Gerken, UGC & Social News, Rafael Rojas and Pascal Fletcher, BBC Monitoring

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