Fifa has confirmed alcohol will be banned for World Cup fans in a major and unprecedented volte-face just 48 hours before the tournament will kick off in Qatar. The news that it will not be sold inside or around the perimeter of stadiums was confirmed by Fifa in a terse statement on Friday afternoon.
However, football’s governing body will now be looking nervously over its shoulders at the prospect of legal action from Budweiser, which has a $75m (£63m) sponsorship agreement with Fifa and is likely to regard this as a major breach of contract.
In a tweet – since deleted – moments just before the news became official the US beer brand said: “Well, this is awkward…”
The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation, but organisers had promised that it would be available in match venues and in fan zones – and that it would also be reasonably priced.
However, it has now decided that alcohol will be available at matches only in hospitality boxes, where the cheapest suites are nearly £20,000 a match, and some fan zones after 7 pm, where it will cost nearly £12 for 500 ml of Budweiser.
According to reports, the decision was made after the Qataris, as the host nation, determined that everyone within World Cup stadiums must feel comfortable, which would not be the case if spectators were spotted consuming alcohol or showed up intoxicated.
According to them, this competition will attract a huge number of followers from Gulf and Asian nations where alcohol consumption is uncommon. And while there are some alcohol-free fan zones in Doha, it is difficult to avoid drunk fans in a stadium.
However, it is unclear why the decision was made now and not in the twelve years when they won the right to host the World Cup. Until recently, organizers maintained that they would strike a compromise between the preferences of western fans and Qatar’s traditional culture.
That message was reiterated most recently by Fatma al-Nuaimi, head of communications for the Supreme Committee, who said: “When it comes to alcohol, hospitality is part of our culture, even if alcohol is not. There will be designated areas where drinks will be served, especially the fan zones. So it will be in the places where the fans will gather, but not openly on the streets.”
The news was greeted with frustration by the Football Supporters’ Association, which questioned whether the Qataris could now be trusted on their other promises.