The World Cup 2022 is on the horizon. The first match between the host nation of Qatar and Ecuador is due to kick off on Sunday, November 20 at 4pm. It’s common knowledge that the entire event has suffered a mass of controversy. From complaints about human rights laws in the country to construction workers dying.
FIFA has had quite the backlash from both football fans and non-fans alike. The tournament has never had so much uproar as this before. Now it seems like there’s something else to add to the collection of issues.
Two days before the first match, FIFA has confirmed the banning of alcohol at World Cup stadiums in Qatar. In a huge turnaround, authorities in the host country made the decision on banning such sales to fans. Qatar is a Muslim country, meaning that alcohol sales come under heavy control. Yet for the World Cup, the original plan was to serve it in “select areas” within stadiums. Now, FIFA has changed the policy on it after discussions with the Qatari authorities.
In a terse statement issued on Friday afternoon, FIFA said:
“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 Qatar’s World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.”
The statement continued on by saying that Bud Zero would remain on sale within the stadiums. Of course, that is a zero-alcohol beer, which does not go against Qatari law.
Pressure from Qatar’s Rulers Brings About the U-Turn
The first rumblings of such changes taking place came about on Thursday. It was then that The Times revealed that Qatar’s rulers had been putting pressure on FIFA. This included difficulties coming from the Emir of the Gulf state, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He has already made headlines for lashing out at critics of Qatar’s human rights laws and hosting of the World Cup.
Yet the decision to ban alcohol sales in the venues is a significant U-turn on policies. Under the previous rules, fans could buy Budweiser within the stadiums. With the new policy in place, FIFA has entered into crisis talks with the brewer of the beer, AB In-Bev. Doubtless, the company will feel betrayed, considering it is one of FIFA’s big sponsors.
Now, the only people who will be able to drink in the venues is those in the hospitality boxes. With prices starting at £19,000 per suite for those, it’s not likely to cater to the average football fan. Confirmation soon came through on the boxes’ status from Match Hospitality. It had promised “champagne, beer and premium spirits” to those in its boxes. That, it said, will still go ahead. Budweiser will still be available for average fans outside the venues. Yet this will only be purchasable during limited hours.
FIFA followed up the initial part of its statement with an insight into the World Cup experience. It said that the stadiums and surrounding areas would still offer a pleasant setup for fans.
Could it be that the football body is looking at the prospect of a lawsuit from Budweiser, though? The $75 million (£63 million) sponsorship deal in place likely provided for beer sales in venues. Without this being possible now, AB In-Bev could look at it as a breach of their contract with FIFA.
A Tweet appeared on the official Twitter account of the beer brand moments before today’s news broke. While it has since disappeared, Budweiser’s thoughts are clear from it:
“Well, this is awkward…”.
Where Does This Leave World Cup Alcohol Sales?
The rules of selling alcohol at the World Cup 2022 dictate that it will only be available after 7pm. This is only possible in certain fan zones, too. It’s also key to note that it will cost almost £12 per bottle from these locations. There will also be a limit of four bottles per order due to a fear of binge drinking. Initial insights suggested that the tournament organisers would keep prices modest on beer. There are no other official beers for the World Cup, either. Thus, it’s £12 Budweiser in the fan zones or nothing else.
There is a reason why the decision to ban beer in stadiums came about. The Qataris want everyone to feel comfortable while watching the matches. They thought this would not be possible if fans were turning up drunk or consuming beer inside. It is their view that the country will host people from a large number of Gulf states and Asian locations. Drinking alcohol is not a part of their culture. Alcohol-free fan zones do exist within Doha for the event. Yet it isn’t easy to get away from someone in a stadium who has been drinking.
What is unclear is why the authorities have only taken the decision to ban alcohol now. They received the right to host the World Cup 12 years ago. Until recently, organisers said they were trying to eke out a middle ground. This would make it enjoyable for Western fans and the more conservative views of Qatar. Even the head of communications for the Supreme Committee backed that up recently. Fatma al-Nuaimi spoke of hospitality being a part of the country’s culture. This, she said, is the case despite alcohol not being a part of it.
Not only that, but there are details inside the official fan guide detailing what fans can buy. This includes not only Coca Cola and Budweiser Zero products, but alcoholic Budweiser. It states that all those will be available to buy inside the stadiums’ perimeters.
News of the policy change did not sit well with some people. The Football Supporters’ Association expressed its displeasure at the decision. It also asked whether Qatar is reliable to come through on its other promises. “Some fans like a beer at a match and some don’t”, the association said. Yet it was more so the last-minute U-turn that it called into question. It labelled it as a “total lack of communication and clarity” towards fans.
Things remain uncertain with the Qatar World Cup tournament. Many believe that the country holds the whip in its hand over FIFA. It was only three months ago that it requested the opening date of the event come forward by one day. This, it said, was so that the Qatar team could have the opening day to itself.
Could more policy changes be on the horizon for the event with only a couple of days to go?