iNEWS: QATAR – Fifa has confirmed that beer is banned at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, just two days before the tournament begins.
This comes after Qatari rulers had reportedly demanded the ban on alcohol despite a multi-million pound deal with Budweiser for the event.
Budweiser would have been the only alcoholic drink available at the stadiums, but now fans can only buy Bud Zero.
FIFA released a statement on Friday confirming the removal of sales points of beer from the stadium perimeters “following discussions between the host country authorities and Fifa”.
The World Cup hosts were reported to be pressuring Fifa to stop Budweiser being sold near the venues and move stalls to other locations. This is due to concern that drinking is not part of the culture in Qatar and other parts of the Middle East and Asia.
Supporters will still be able to consume alcohol in designated fan zones, but the incident throws into question the degree to which Fifa has control over the tournament.
During the 2014 World Cup, Fifa demanded a change in Brazilian legislation to sell beer at stadiums, saying it was non-negotiable. General Secretary, Jerome Valcke, said at the time: “Alcoholic drinks are part of the Fifa World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that’s something we won’t negotiate.”
In 2022, the outcome has been very different. Budweiser is reported to pay Fifa 75 million US dollars (around £62.86m) every four years to be one of its top-level partners, and it is unclear what impact this will have on the commercial deal.
Guardian journalist David Conn shared a screenshot of a deleted Tweet from the Budweiser account, saying: “Well, this is awkward…”. The brewing company has been contacted for comment.
Football fans have been criticised over the last-minute decision to ban beer, with one England supporter saying the fun has been taken out of the event.
“The World Cup is supposed to be a celebration,” said Andy, an England supporter i spoke to who is coming to Doha for the tournament. “It is an opportunity to meet fans from other nations, to enjoy yourself, to wander, to pop into bars and restaurants that look fun. Being confined to pre-booked hotel bars hours before kick off doesn’t sound much fun.”
He added: “The 40,000-capacity fan zone – if indeed that will still serve beer or that will change too – is going to presumably be ridiculously oversubscribed if this is the only official place to get a beer outside of hotels and restaurants.”
Bethany Evans, 25, who has organised for around 2,000 fans to follow Wales’s World Cup journey in Tenerife after being put off by the cost of travelling to Qatar and the drinking restrictions, said: “I think it’s just really disappointing that they’ve made this decision so close.
“By now, everyone that’s going to Qatar is either already on their way there or they’re packing on route to the airport or going to be going tomorrow, Sunday or whatever. I think it’s just really disappointing that they’ve done that to the fans more than anything. It’s too short notice and that is going to ruin a lot of people’s trips, unfortunately.”
Jack McLane, 33, who lives in Manchester and is travelling to Qatar on Thursday to watch England’s last two group games, said the stadium beer ban “doesn’t particularly bother me”.
He told i: “When we’ve been to France and Russia – the last two tournaments – [and] even one of the Euros in England, what you’re getting is usually about 0.5 percent.
“I’m not gonna be devastated that I can’t have a Budweiser at half-time, that’s not going to ruin my trip and I don’t think it will particularly bother England a lot of England fans. There are loads of places where you can have a drink beforehand.”
However, some fans from the country are pleased with the decision, with one saying it is important for their culture to be respected.
That’s good news!” said Nora Hassan, from Doha. “The Qatari people want this too, not just the royal family, because alcohol is prohibited for Muslims, and just as we respect the cultures and religions of other countries, we hope everyone respects our culture and religion.
“People will be happy with this decision. We hope that it will be banned from all places, but Fifa imposes some conditions on the host countries, and therefore it is distributed in some places, but the Qatari people are not happy with the presence of alcohol in general.”
Qatari journalist Mohammed Gharbawy claimed that there had been previous hints at the decision from the Supreme Committee, saying: “I don’t know why anyone is surprised.” The organisers intended “to avoid things like drunk fans on the metro”.
Reflect your Respect, a campaign group for modesty in Qatar, said: “We welcome everyone in Qatar, and we invite them to respect our Qatari religion and culture.”
Fifa appears to have lost control of its showpiece event
Analysis by Daniel Storey, i chief football writer in Doha
The issue is not that alcohol will not be available in World Cup stadiums. The same was roughly true at Euro 2016 in France, where the only beer to buy inside the ground was 0.5 per cent in strength. Qatar is a Muslim country and that makes the sale and marketing of alcohol culturally sensitive.
But to change something so significant, 48 hours before the start of a major tournament, is a demonstration of Qatar’s intent at controlling even the biggest hype machine in global sport, forcing a U-turn from Fifa. It is understood that this has come via protestations from Qatar’s Al Thani royal family.
This isn’t how things normally play out and it is certainly not how Fifa or Budweiser believed that it would play out. Fifa had already made one late concession to Qatar on the alcohol issue, when the state insisted that Budweiser concession stands should be moved to less conspicuous areas rather than front and centre of areas in which supporters would congregate.
It suggests that world football’s governing body has ceded control of its showpiece event and been forced into significant organisational changes so close to the event’s start. This World Cup has already been moved from summer to winter so we should have prepared for comparatively small changes, but the timing is still extraordinary.
Do not underestimate the awkwardness of the fallout. Budweiser has been the exclusive beer provider of the World Cup since 1986, and the contract is worth tens of millions on a four-yearly cycle. If they are prevented by Qatar of selling or advertising their products at any of the eight stadiums around Doha, they may reasonably argue that Fifa have broken the terms of their contract.
As it stands, the only place that supporters in Doha will be able to buy alcoholic beer are the official fan parks, of which Al-Bidda, slightly to the southwest of the city centre, is the largest. There, beer will be priced at approximately £11.50 for 500 ml.
It also significantly changes the fan experience, something that has already been pushed beyond the pale by the cost and administrative headaches. The implied message from Fifa was for supporters to arrive early at the stadiums for the matches they were attending and to have a beer before the game and avoid queues.
The ban comes as ITV journalist Steve Scott reported that Lucozade has pulled all branding from its bottles at the World Cup, saying: “We continue to support all England teams, who celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion. We will not have a brand presence at press conferences, training session or on pitches.”
The Qatar World Cup has seen a number of controversies before it has even begun and has been boycotted by some fans over human rights concerns, including the country’s treatment of LGBTQ people and migrant workers.
Ronan Evain, head of Football Supporters Europe, said he hopes this will be the only last-minute change to the tournament, fearing that other verbal commitments could be given by the Qataris could also be cancelled.
“I hope it ends with this,” he said, adding: “We’ve been asked to believe assurances given by the organisers. Weve been asked to believe their word without anything more. With these changes, their word is discredited.
“The problem is the other commitments – the suspensions of the criminalisation of same sex relations, tolerance of public displays of affection, the fact the rainbow flag is allowed in the country and stadiums. All of this not backed by formal commitment is now questionable – 48 hours before the tournament this is extremely worrying/”
The Football Supporters’ Association criticised the last minute U-turn which suggests a “total lack of communication” from the organisers.
A spokesperson said: “Some fans like a beer at a game and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which speaks to a wider problem – the total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters,” a spokesperson said.
“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”
Fifa said in a statement: “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 Fifa World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.
“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.
“Host country authorities and Fifa will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans.
“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”