Overruling world football governing body FIFA and reversing its own earlier decision, Qatar now says beer won’t be sold at the eight stadiums where the World Cup matches are be staged.
As a result, FIFA has now banned the sale of alcohol at the World Cup stadiums after coming under pressure from the kingdom’s all-powerful royal family – as sponsor Budweiser tried to make light of the bad news.
Hence, fans have been told just 48 hours before Qatar, the host nation, face Ecuador in the tournament opener on Sunday, that they cannot buy alcoholic beer at any games.
In this situation, FIFA has confirmed that alcohol sales would be confined to special ‘fan zones’ where pints cost £12, are only available at certain times, and are limited to four per person.
Plans had called for alcohol to be sold on stadium concourses, but this will not happen. Alcohol will be available as normal in licenced hotels and restaurants.
The move will have serious implications for Budweiser, the famous German brand which is one of FIFA’s main sponsors. If Budweiser is not allowed either to sell its product or have any visibility at the matches, then football’s world governing body will be in breach of its contract.
It has a $75 million sponsorship deal with FIFA covering the four-year World Cup cycle but has been told to relocate stalls selling its product at stadiums to less prominent locations.
The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, but it is due to be available in the area immediately outside match venues and fan zones, as well as within hotels.
The only place alcohol can now be bought in or around stadiums will be in the hospitality boxes, which start at $22,450 per match. Those lucky enough to get a seat in a box are promised ‘soft drinks, beers, Champagne, sommelier-selected wines, and premium spirits’ both ‘before, during and after’ the game.
However, the latest development may drag Doha into a legal battle because officials agreed to respect FIFA’s commercial partners when launching its hosting bid, and again when signing contracts after winning the vote in 2010.
The rule-change is said to have been made following the request of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruler.
It is just the latest controversy to plague an already fraught World Cup – the first to be held in a Muslim nation – which has thrown football’s governing ethos and traditional trappings into conflict with the hosts’ conservative interpretation of Islam.
Qatar is also facing serious allegations of abuse of migrant workers – many of whom are thought to have died in the heat – who built the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure to cope with more than one million fans descending on a country with a regular population of just 300,000.
Officially, Doha says just three deaths are directly attributable to the construction project. But human rights groups say that figure is likely in the hundreds, and possibly in the thousands.
Workers from some of the world’s most impoverished countries have reported being paid just pence per day for their work, while Qatar has also been accused of using North Korean slave labour for some of the projects.
Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s former boss who was forced to resign shortly after the Qatar World Cup was announced amid a corruption scandal, has even admitted the tournament was a ‘mistake’.