DOHA, Qatar — Small but wealthy Gulf state Qatar has spent 12 years preparing to host soccer’s World Cup, a marathon of planning and patience during which it has redrawn an entire nation by building stadiums, hotels, roads, sidewalks, and a shiny new subway system.
However, it wasn’t until Friday that she finally settled on what to do about the sale of beer during the tournament, and her decision – to the consternation of nearly a million fans who would arrive in the coming days – was to ban the sale of beer. in the eight courts of the event.
the decision, announced by FIFAQatar, the world’s governing body for football, was a surprise change by Qatar, and the latest flash point in the ongoing cultural conflict inherent in staging the tournament in a small, conservative Middle Eastern ownership.
Since Qatar was surprisingly awarded the rights to host the World Cup more than a decade ago, local organizers and global soccer leaders have insisted that beer — a staple of sporting events around the world, but tightly controlled in Qatar — beer will be served. Available to the masses. But two days before the first match of the event, that message changed.
Instead, country officials decided that the only drinks that would be sold to fans at the Games would be non-alcoholic beverages.
Thousands of fans who made it to the World Cup only heard the news after their flights landed in Doha. A group of seven Mexican fans, who recently arrived in Qatar, were shocked on Friday to learn that they would not be able to drink inside stadiums.
“It’s a disaster; I didn’t expect this news,” said Diego Anbrik, 29, who is attending the World Cup for the first time. “It’s terrible news. It’s part of the stadium environment, the beer.”
It is not clear why the ban came so close to the tournament, but the sudden change was in keeping with the tournament’s ever-changing policy towards alcohol, and making it available to fans attending matches. Plans were drawn up again and again, revised, and then reworked again – a possible indication that local politics or even the influence of the royal family played a role.
“Following discussions between the host country authorities and FIFA, a decision was taken to focus on the sale of alcoholic beverages at the FIFA Fan Fest, other fan destinations and licensed venues,” said FIFA. She added that the decision would require “the removal of beer selling points from the vicinity of the 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium in Qatar.”
The decision to ban beer comes a week after an earlier decree relocated dozens of red beer tents draped in the Budweiser brand, the longtime sponsor of the World Cup and the tournament’s official beer, to more secret World Cup locations in Qatar. Stadiums, away from where most of the fans attending matches pass.
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According to three people with direct knowledge of this earlier change, employees were told the move followed security advice. But the belief that the change originated with Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani – brother of the ruling Emir of Qatar and the most active member of the royal family in the day-to-day planning of the tournament – suggests that it is not negotiable.
Now the beer will not just be hidden from view: it will not be available to the masses at all.
The ban is the latest and most dramatic point of contention yet between FIFA and Qatar, which has sought and won the right to host the World Cup as part of an ambitious effort to make itself known on the world stage. Qatari government leaders, in recent weeks, Including the princewaged an increasingly staunch defense of their nation.
But their latest transformation will have fans riled up; leaving regulators scrambling to adapt; and the complexity of a $75 million FIFA sponsorship agreement with Budweiser.
Budweiser has been ubiquitous at World Cups since it first signed up as FIFA’s sponsor before 1986 in Mexico, and has once again planned to be a major presence in Qatar.
By Friday, it had already taken over the luxurious W Hotel in one of Doha’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, where it planned to host guests and put on live shows for matches — and beer.
But it has been powerless to stop Qatar’s ban on its products, which also suggests that FIFA, which has faced years of fierce criticism for its decision to bring the magnificent tournament to the country, may not be in full control of key decisions involving the country. Event.
For example, a decade ago, the soccer body pressured Brazil, which was hosting the 2014 World Cup, to Just for the opposite result: leaning on the Brazilian government to change a law allowing the sale of beer in stadiums, a practice that had been banned in Brazil since 2003.
In Qatar, FIFA acquiesced to the host nation’s demands. That raised the possibility that other promises that run counter to local laws and customs – including on issues such as press freedom, street protests and the rights of LGBTQ visitors – were not as strong as Qatar and FIFA said.
The Football Supporters Association, a UK-based football fan advocacy group, Criticize the decision.
“Some fans like to have a beer at a match and some don’t, but the real problem is the last-minute turnaround which speaks to a bigger problem – the complete lack of communication and clarity from the Organizing Committee towards the fans,” the group said in a statement.
“If they can change their mind about this at any moment, without any explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will deliver on other promises related to housing, transportation or cultural issues.”
The ban on alcohol consumption appears to only apply to fans attending matches. Beer and other drinks, incl Official FIFA champagne And a range of wines selected by the sommelier, will still be available in the luxurious stadium suites reserved for FIFA officials and other wealthy guests.
Qatar has grappled with the topic of alcohol since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the rights to host the World Cup in 2010. Alcohol is available in the country, but sales are strictly controlled. Most visitors, even before the World Cup, were only allowed to buy beer and other alcoholic beverages in upscale hotel bars at unusually high prices.
World Cup organizers seemed keen to mollify Budweiser and its parent company, Belgium-based multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev, saying, “The tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continued support of our shared commitment to meeting everyone’s needs.”
Initially, the company’s only public statement was a mockery of its Twitter account, which wrote, “Well, this is embarrassing…” The tweet was deleted about 90 minutes later, just before FIFA’s statement was released.
Later, a company representative said it would have to cancel some of its World Cup marketing plans “due to circumstances beyond our control”.
Last week, Qatari organizers attempted to downplay the escalating tension over beer sales, a World Cup fixture for generations, by saying that operational plans were still being worked out, and changes were still being made to the “location of certain fan areas.” Its statement also noted. That “flow times and number of flow destinations” remained the same across all eight stadiums.
Budweiser, which pays FIFA $75 million per four-year World Cup cycle, said it was working with organizers to “relocate franchise outlets to locations as directed.”
The newer plan means that the brewery’s red tents may now not be visible throughout the stadiums; Unbranded white alternatives are being considered. The company’s famous red-hued fridges will likely be replaced with blue ones, which is the color associated with Budweiser’s non-alcoholic brand, Budweiser Zero.
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