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Time to cheer and bring on the beer

Business plans and spreadsheets could well take a back seat at many multinational corporations as thousands of expat executives root for their respective teams in the football World Cup.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay with Anamika Butalia        Print Edition: June 27, 2010

"Allez La France" shouts Jean-Michel Casse, trying to look less like a senior executive and more like a footballer as he dons the French national jersey and shows us his soccer skills. The 37-year-old French national, Senior Vice President (Operations) with the Accor Group in India, says while he hopes his firm's bottom line keeps growing over the next one month, he is certain of one thing: His own waistline will grow a few inches by the end of June!

The reason? Casse has plans to down umpteen glasses of wine, cheese and steaks as he and his band of friends (all French expats in Delhi) thump tables and do impromptu war dances every time Nicolas Anelka finds the back of the net in the FIFA World Cup — hopefully, on day one, June 11, at Cape Town in South Africa.

At about the same time as the excited Frenchman was telling us about the superior quality of wine and cheese they serve at a place called "The Hub" (the pub at Ibis, Gurgaon), a few hundred miles away in Mumbai, British national Andrew Holland was ensuring he had packed the English team's jersey into his suitcase.

Holland, CEO of Ambit Capital, an investment management firm, is flying to South Africa to ensure Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and gang have an extra voice to cheer them on the field. "I will be there for two weeks, hoping England makes it to the semis at least. My wife (who is Indian) will join me after a week and, apart from a lot of shouting and cheering over several pints of beer, we also plan to do some serious wine tasting while there," says the effervescent Holland.

The FIFA World Cup will be one of the most-watched sporting events of the world, what with football easily the most popular global sport— Nielsen estimates the number of TV viewers for the game at 4.1 billion. Among those billions will be a chunk of the burgeoning expat population in India—estimated at a little over 80,000 at present and growing at 15 per cent annually, according to both a Citibank study in 2008-09 and a similar report by Delhi-based research firm Evalueserve.

So while Casse and his pals plan to create a shortage of wines in Delhi, Dinko Mehmedagic and his fellow Germans are sure beer shops in Pune will record the highest sales in four years this month. Mehmedagic, an avid footballer and a director at Deutsche Bank when he's not playing soccer, has it all planned out. "We will watch the matches at either Post 91 or Malaka Spice—(both up-market restaurants in the Koregaon Park area of Pune)."

The German national has a truckload of friends in town and as he points out: "There is no shortage of Germans in Pune with over 200 German firms having offices here. So about a 100 of us plan to watch the matches together and drink ourselves to glory every time Germany wins. We just want to win the cup, that's all. Nothing more." Mehmedagic is sure Michael Ballack (the original captain of the side who has been ruled out due to injury) will be missed but then as he puts it: "Germans have never depended on one star. Our strength is our teamwork."

Holland, too, is backing England's skipper Rio Ferdinand and his men to bend it better than Beckham. And when he comes back to Mumbai, the Manchester United fan says he will head "straight to the Manchester United café in Mumbai's Palladium Mall where I plan to remain a permanent fixture during the matches. And yes, the beer will flow," he laughs.

Not everyone expects their team to win, though. Hotelier Mathew Cooper, for one, is fairly sure that Australia won't make it too far considering they have Germany in their group. "We are the cricket champs, even hockey champs. But soccer is not our strong point. However, I still plan to do full justice to any beer bottles put in front of me during the matches. A lot of us Aussies are going to head to the Emporio Mall in south Delhi where I believe there is a giant screen. All of us will be wearing the jersey and there will be plenty of flags flying as well. And win or lose, we will make sure there is plenty to eat and drink in true Aussie style," says Cooper, 36, General Manager of the Marriott in Gurgaon.

In fact, senior executives at international hotel chains across India have fancy plans to cheer their respective teams. Cooper's colleague Sanne Emborg, the sports-loving GM at Courtyard by Marriott Mumbai, says she will wear only bright red and drape herself in the Danish flag during match days while making sure there's enough Tuborg, Carlsberg (both Danish beers) and Danish Schnapps to go around for her friends. Ronald Nillson, the boss of the newlylaunched Swissotel in Kolkata, plans to host barbeque parties at his home for Swiss and German friends and watch the matches at one of Kolkata's many night clubs.

Not being favourites will also not deter New Zealander Greg Davey, Development Manager at Rugby India and a former All Blacks star, from doing summersaults every time his countrymen score a goal. "I know we would need a miracle to win this cup. But my energy levels are already skyrocketing. Don't blame me if my neighbours complain about my shouting, hooting and clapping during matches," says the Mumbai resident.

Fellow Mumbaikar Don Giovanni says one thing is for certain: He is too old to do summersaults. But, at 74, this passionate Azzurri fan is set to cheer for Italy all through June. "We are the reigning champs so of course I expect the boys to win. I was a football player as a youngster. When I set up my first restaurant (he owns Don Giovanni, the Italian restaurant chain) I designed a wall especially dedicated to our football players," he recalls.

However, having spent 25 years in India (he supports India in cricket matches) he says he will also clap for the team that plays the most attractive football. "I am a fair man," says the young-at-heart septuagenarian. Has he stocked up on the wine, we ask him. Don laughs. "I have cut down on my drinking in recent years. However, a few glasses of wine would be par for the course. Of course, in all my restaurants we will offer a 50 per cent discount on all alcoholic beverages on match days," he adds, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Even those who are not avid soccer fans, such as consumer electronics giant LG's India MD Moon B. Shin, are set for the world cup. "I hope we manage to sell more television sets than others in the run-up to the Cup but, on a personal level, I will be watching my country's matches as well as a few other matches that interest me. I am an avid golfer, but I am also a Korean and football is in my blood," says the 55-year-old. "When we watch the match we will make sure we have plenty of whisky in stock," says Shin.

Fellow Korean Donald Kwag, Vice President at STAR CJ Alive, (STAR's home shopping channel) is all geared up, too. "I'll be going to Seoul to watch the first match (on TV) against Greece. All of us will wear our red shirts to cheer the team. If we win a match, I plan to have two or three bottles of beer. And if we end up losing, I fear it will be closer to six bottles that night!" he says. And yes, every time South Korea wins a match—it's going to be an overnight party for Kwag and his friends. The 39-year-old hopes his team will repeat its 2002 performance and reach the last four.

All promise that if their teams reach the quarter finals, there will be more drinking, shouting and midnight revelries at their homes, hotels or pubs. As Casse says, "The support could become wilder if France qualifies for the knockout stages." And if France does make it to the last four, the diminutive Gaul says he might actually be in Cape Town to cheer his heroes.

He's not the only one making travel plans. Dimple Gandhi, Director, Cutting Edge, the official travel partner for FIFA for the World Cup, says: "I would say between 800 and 1,000 people are flying out to South Africa (from India) specifically for the World Cup. Out of these roughly 50 per cent are expats. Football, unlike cricket, is not a religion to most Indians, but to the British, French or German expats it is indeed the most important sport."

For cricket-crazy India however, the motto during the World Cup could well be: this World Cup, do as the Englishmen, Brazilians and football fanatics from 30 other countries do.

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