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Qatar is banning all beer sales at and around its World Cup stadiums, in a dramatic U-turn just two days before the massive soccer tournament begins, world soccer governing body FIFA confirmed on Friday.
“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,” a statement from FIFA said.
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The conservative, gas-rich Muslim nation does not fully ban alcohol for visitors, but its sale and consumption is strictly controlled. Alcohol is typically only allowed in a handful of specifically-licensed hotels and restaurants and away from street view.
Budweiser’s non-alcoholic beer, Bud Zero, will continue to be sold at all eight of the country’s World Cup stadiums, the statement said.
“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,” it added. “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.”
The reported decision throws the tournament’s $75 billion sponsorship by major beermaker Budweiser into question and is set to anger many organizers and attending fans already frustrated over restrictions that are new to the 92-year old event.
FIFA’s pick for Qatar, a tiny state in the Gulf with a population of 3 million people and a limited soccer history, to host the 2022 World Cup was controversial from the outset when the selection was made in 2010.
Qatar’s hosting of the tournament, which is expected to bring in an estimated 1.2 million tourists, has been marred with controversy and criticism over a number of issues. These include workers’ rights, visitor capacity issues, cultural and religious restrictions, and the fact that for the first time in its history, the World Cup is taking place in winter rather than summer due to the country’s extreme heat during its summer months.
It’s also drawn criticism for last minute changes, including a request to delay the tournament’s start by a few days that came only in August, a demand just last week from the government that beer stands be moved further away from stadiums, and finally Friday’s decision to ban beer sales around stadiums altogether, just over 48 hours before the first match begins on Sunday.