Qatar bans sale of beer at World Cup stadiums in an abrupt about-face
The decision to nix beer sales comes two days before the World Cup opens and 12 years after Qatar first agreed to respect FIFA’s commercial partners.
Qatar on Friday banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums — only two days before the soccer tournament’s opening game — in a sudden U-turn on the deal the country made to secure hosting rights to the event.
The move was the latest sign of the tensions surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the event, which is not just a sports tournament but also a monthlong party. The beer ban by the conservative Muslim emirate, where the sale of alcohol is heavily restricted, is a significant blow to World Cup sponsor Budweiser and raises questions about how much control FIFA retains over its tournament.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the the tournament, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements of alcohol sales in stadiums. But the details of how it would be done were released only in September, just 11 weeks before the first kickoff — a suggestion of how fraught the negotiations may have been.
Friday’s statement from FIFA said that non-alcoholic beer would still be sold at the eight stadiums and that Champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol would still be served in the arenas’ luxury hospitality areas.
But the vast majority of ticket-holders don’t have access to those areas. They will be able to drink alcoholic beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities. Outside of the tournament-run areas, Qatar puts strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, though its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years.
“Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from ... stadium perimeters,” FIFA said in a statement.
The eight stadiums hosting games at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar hold grim legacies because of their association with migrant worker deaths in the country.
Budweiser’s Twitter account tweeted: “Well, this is awkward...” without elaborating further Friday. The tweet was later deleted.
AB InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, acknowledged in a statement that some of its plans “cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
Ronan Evain, the executive director of the fan group Football Supporters Europe, called the decision to ban beer sales at the stadiums “extremely worrying.”
“For many fans, whether they don’t drink alcohol or are used to dry stadium policies at home, this is a detail. It won’t change their tournament,” Evain wrote on Twitter. “But with 48 [hours] to go, we’ve clearly entered a dangerous territory — where ‘assurances’ don’t matter anymore.”
Concern over Qatar’s treatment of LGBTQ residents and visitors who will attend the World Cup have long dogged FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.
Qatar, which is governed by a hereditary emir who has absolute say over all governmental decisions, follows an ultra-conservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism, as does neighboring Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Qatar has transformed into an ultra-modern hub following a natural gas boom in the 1990s, but it has faced pressure from within to stay true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots. Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol.
In the runup to the World Cup, rights groups have raised concerns about how the nation will host millions of foreign fans, some of whom might violate Islamic laws criminalizing public drunkenness, sex outside of marriage and gay sex.
Qatar’s government and its Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Friday’s was not Qatar’s first backtrack, but it was the most significant. Last weekend, AB InBev was left surprised by a new policy insisted on by Qatari organizers to move beer stalls to less visible locations within the stadium compounds.
Qatar’s decision to launch itself into hosting the 2022 World Cup was a head-scratcher from the start.
And Qatar also changed the date of the opening match only weeks before the World Cup began.
At the 2014 World Cup, host country Brazil was forced to change a law to allow alcohol sales in stadiums, but the same cultural issues were not at play.
AB InBev’s deal with FIFA was renewed in 2011, after Qatar was picked as host. However, the Belgium-based brewer has faced uncertainty in recent months on the exact details of where it can serve and sell beer in Qatar. And some have balked at the price, which was confirmed at $14 for a beer.
At the W Hotel in Doha — where the company will be based during the World Cup — workers continued putting together a Budweiser-themed bar planned at the site. Its familiar AB logo was plastered on columns and walls at the hotel, with one reading: “The World Is Yours to Take.”