DOHA, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Alcoholic beer will not be sold in Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, FIFA said on Friday.
The announcement comes two days before Sunday’s kick-off of the World Cup, the first to be held in a conservative Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol, the consumption of which is banned in public.
“Following discussions between the host country authorities and FIFA, it has been decided to concentrate the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, and to remove beer outlets from the perimeters of the FIFA World Cup. 2022 stadium in Qatar.” a FIFA spokesperson said in a statement.
England’s Football Supporters’ Association said the decision raised concerns about Qatar’s ability to keep its promises to visiting fans over “accommodation, transport or cultural issues”.
For years, Qatar’s tournament organizers have said that alcohol would be widely accessible to fans of the tournament.
“Some fans like a beer during the game, some don’t, but the real problem is the last-minute turnaround that addresses a wider problem: the total lack of communication and clarity from the organizing committee to the supporters.” the union in a statement on Twitter.
Qatar, the smallest country to host a World Cup, is bracing for the expected arrival of 1.2 million fans during the month-long tournament, more than a third of the Gulf Arab state’s 3 million population.
Budweiser, a major World Cup sponsor owned by beer maker AB InBev, would sell exclusive alcoholic beer within the perimeter of each of the eight ticketed stadiums three hours before and one hour after each game.
“Some of the planned stadium activations cannot proceed due to circumstances beyond our control,” AB InBev said in a statement.
Someone at the company had summed up the situation succinctly. “Well this is awkward…” read a post on Budweiser’s official Twitter account. The comment, which was subsequently deleted, was broadcast as a screengrab by the BBC.
Budweiser has been a World Cup sponsor since 1985, the year before the event was held in Mexico. For 2022, it has launched its largest-ever campaign, with activities for Budweiser and other brands in more than 70 markets and 1.2 million bars, restaurants and stores.
The World Cup typically drives beer consumption and the Belgium-based maker of brands like Stella Artois and Corona clearly wants to profit from the millions of dollars it pays to be a sponsor.
However, it has said that those profits will come less from consumption at the event venue, but from fans watching on television.
“Tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continued support for our shared commitment to looking after everyone during the FIFA World Cup,” the statement said.
The stadium reversal comes after protracted negotiations between FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Budweiser and executives from Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which hosts the World Cup, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters on condition of anonymity .
The SC did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment and FIFA did not confirm Infantino’s involvement.
“There is a greater number of fans coming from the Middle East and South Asia, where alcohol is not as big a part of the culture,” said the source.
“The thinking was that for many fans, the presence of alcohol would not create an enjoyable experience.”
The alcohol will continue to flow freely in the stadium’s VIP suites, which are advertised on FIFA’s website as a selection of beers, champagne, sommelier-selected wines and premium spirits.
Budweiser will sell its non-alcoholic beer throughout the stadium area for $8.25 per pint, the statement said.
Since Qatar acquired guest rights in 2010, questions have been raised about the role alcohol would play at this year’s World Cup. While not a “dry” state like neighboring Saudi Arabia, consuming alcohol in public places is illegal in Qatar.
Visitors are not allowed to bring alcohol into Qatar, even from the duty-free section of the airport, and most cannot buy alcohol from the country’s only liquor store. In some hotels, alcohol is sold in bars, where beer costs about $15 per pint.
Budweiser will still sell alcoholic beer at the main FIFA Fan Fest in downtown Doha, the source said, where it will be offered for about $14 a pint. Alcohol will also be sold in some other fan zones, while others will be non-alcoholic.
“Fans can decide where they want to go without feeling uncomfortable. In stadiums this wasn’t the case before,” said the source.
Report by Andrew Mills in Doha with contributions from Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Manasi Pathak in Doha; Written by Andrew Mills; Edited by Jan Harvey and Christian Radnedge
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