Javier Hernandez (left) goes for the ball against Marco Fabian during a Mexico training session at the High Performace Center in Mexico City
Mexico City - AFP
Can Mexicans keep their eyes on the political football during the World Cup?
While millions will be watching Mexico's star striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and company take on Brazil in less than three weeks, lawmakers will be tackling a controversial energy bill.
The clash of calendars has sparked a political storm, with opponents of the legislation crying foul.
The leftist opposition is accusing the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of "political opportunism" by seizing on the public's passion for football and scheduling energy committee debates during the tournament.
Miguel Barbosa, coordinator of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) in the Senate, asked for the legislation to be taken up after the July 13 World Cup final.
"They want people glued to their televisions or partying at the Angel of Independence column, not outside the Senate (protesting)," Barbosa wrote Wednesday in El Universal newspaper, referring to the Mexico City monument where people traditionally celebrate football victories.
Senator David Penchyna, a PRI member and chairman of the energy committee, refused to budge, saying he could call 90-minute breaks during the debates for people to watch the games.
The PRD already lost a major round to President Enrique Pena Nieto in December when Congress passed the constitutional reform that will allow foreign firms to drill for oil in Mexico for the first time since 1938.
The next clash is over the enabling legislation that will detail how contracts are awarded, but Pena Nieto likely has the votes again to see it through.
- Watch football or Congress? -
Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said passing the legislation in the first half of this year was urgent so that Mexicans could benefit from the savings that it would generate.
"A football game lasts two hours. Why should we leave the country hanging for 45 days for a tournament?" Coldwell asked.
"I think that Mexicans interested in energy will follow the debates in Congress, with or without a football tournament. Those who are not interested will watch football; it is their right."
The energy committee voted late Thursday to hold a series of hearings on the legislation between June 6 and June 17.
The June 12 hearing coincides with the World Cup's opening game between hosts Brazil and Croatia.
The last committee hearing is on June 17, an even bigger day for Mexicans because their team will play a key Group A game against regional rivals Brazil.
National Autonomous University political science professor Javier Oliva said the PRI, which ruled the country for most of the 20th century, benefited in the past from the World Cup coinciding with elections.
"It's often the same story in Mexico," Oliva told AFP. "I am not sure it was calculated, but it's a coincidence that they want to benefit from.
"If the Mexican team stays in the competition it will be better for the legislative debate. But if they are quickly eliminated, the debate will be more complicated," Oliva added.
History is not on Mexico's side, having only gone as far as the quarter-finals twice.
This year, lawmakers should mark July 4 and 5 on their calendars. It's the two possible dates for the quarter-finals.