World Cup fans in Qatar will not be allowed to buy alcohol at the tournament’s eight stadiums.
The U-turn comes 48 hours before the competition’s opening game between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor on Sunday.
Qatar had originally ordered Budweiser stands to be less prominent, but now alcohol won’t be sold at all at stadiums – with the exception of corporate spectators.
Those in corporate hospitality at stadiums will still be allowed to drink alcohol.
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 FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.”
It added Bud Zero would still be available, and that it would “continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans”.
A source briefed on the decision told Sky News: “These have been long-term discussions, and the overall feeling from everyone involved was that the stadiums need to be for everyone.
“This World Cup is different to others in that a larger number of fans are attending from across the Middle East and South Asia, where alcohol doesn’t play such a large role in the culture. The thinking was that, for many fans, the presence of alcohol would not create an enjoyable experience.
“The fan zones will be different in that some are clearly designated as alcohol-serving, while others are alcohol-free. Fans can decide where they want to go without feeling uncomfortable. At stadiums, this was previously not the case.”
The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, and is only allowed in the Muslim nation within hotel bars and restaurants away from street view.
It had to relax its alcohol restrictions to allow FIFA sponsor Budweiser to sell its products outside match venues and fan zones.
Now Qatar 2022 has gone even further – at the insistence of Qatar’s Al Thani royal family, it is understood.
As one of FIFA’s biggest sponsors, Budweiser has the exclusivity to sell beer at World Cup matches.
It reportedly pays more than £60m over four years to be a FIFA top-tier sponsor, and this late change is unlikely to have gone down well.
A tweet from the official Budweiser account on Friday morning, which was later deleted, simply said: “Well, this is awkward…”
One fan replied to the post, saying, “I cannot watch England play whilst I’m sober next Monday” – to which Budweiser responded: “Don’t be, we’ll join you.”
Budweiser owner AB InBev later issued a statement, saying: “As partners of FIFA for over three decades, we look forward to our activations of FIFA World Cup campaigns around the world to celebrate football with our consumers. Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
It would have been the only alcoholic beverage available to fans.
The Football Supporters’ Association, for fans in England and Wales, criticised what it described as a “total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters”.
“Some fans like a beer at the match, and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which speaks to a wider problem,” it said in a statement.
“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.”
Qatar had initially told fans they would be able to buy beer outside the stadium bowl itself, within the perimeter for ticketholders, “three hours prior to kick-off when the gates open and one hour after the final whistle”.
Now, it is understood beer will only be available in alcohol-serving fan zones in Qatar after 6.30pm and drunk fans will be sent to special zones to sober up.
Footage on social media in recent days shows red Budweiser tents being moved on wheels by staff.
England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale – on media duties shortly after the news broke – said: “I think the fans will find some way of having a beer, I don’t think you need to do it so much at the game.
“Hopefully, with them not being able to drink we can perform on the pitch to give them that excitement and buzz.
“But we also have to respect the rules and continue to work, we will put pressure on ourselves to entertain from the football pitch.”
Beer U-turn raises questions about Qatar’s word on other issues
Clearly, the sale of any alcohol for the first time at stadiums in Qatar was causing concern for the ruling family in this conservative Muslim nation.
For English fans, it is less about the inability to buy a drink – unless now it is alcohol-free Budweiser – but how much Qatar’s word can be relied on when there are concerns about the welcome for LGBT fans.
The Qatari decision is a blow to Budweiser and its £60m+ sponsorship.
But the winners are still those in corporate hospitality at stadiums. They will still be allowed to drink alcohol during the next month of matches.
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