Qatar is to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks at World Cup stadiums, just two days before the tournament is due to start.
Though alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, it is strictly controlled and usually only available at designated hotels. The planning of the World Cup had included an agreement that venues would be allowed to sell beer on match days.
Though alcoholic beer would be on sale before and after games, supporters would only be permitted to drink non-alcoholic Bud Zero in their seats during matches.
That plan has now been scrapped, with alcohol sales now limited to fan zones located away from stadiums.
FIFA confirmed the move in a statement on Friday morning, saying: “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 sale 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 fans.
“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everybody during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
The ban on sales within the stadium perimeter is likely to cause friction between FIFA and Budweiser, who are a major tournament sponsor. AB InBev, who brew Budweiser, has been a sponsor since 1986.
Budweiser beer tents had already been moved from prominent positions, reportedly on the instructions of the Qatari royal family, who were concerned about controversy caused by the sales of alcohol in the conservative Muslim country.
FIFA’s official fan guide for Qatar 2022 stated that “ticket holders will have access to Budweiser, Budweiser Zero, and Coca-Cola products within the stadium perimeter” in the build-up to each match and for an hour after. Though that will no longer be the case for ordinary fans, it’s reported that VIPs and FIFA officials will still be able to drink alcohol in the luxury hospitality suites in stadiums.
The move adds further controversy to a tournament that has been widely criticised since FIFA awarded the hosting rights to the Gulf state. Qatar’s record on human rights, equality and the treatment of migrant workers have prompted many to question the wisdom of holding the tournament there, and some of the participating teams have been vocal about their own feelings on the host country.
Alcohol has been banned from major football tournaments in the past. France restricted the sale of drinks to fans during Euro 2016 after violent clashes between rival supporters.
At Euro 2020, where games were played across the continent, most stadiums sold alcohol but Scotland’s Hampden Park did not.
Brazil changed its rules for the World Cup in 2014. The South American country had a long-standing alcohol ban to prevent violence at games, but lifted the restrictions for the duration of the tournament.
Reports at the time said that the move had come under intense pressure from FIFA and quoted then-secretary Jerome Valcke as saying: “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.”
World Cup 2022 begins on Sunday, when host nation Qatar take on Ecuador.