By Andrew Mills
DOHA Nov 18 (Reuters) – In a reversal, alcoholic beer will not be sold at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, world soccer governing body FIFA said in a statement on Friday.
The announcement comes two days before Sunday’s kickoff of the World Cup, the first to be held in a conservative Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol, the consumption of which is banned in public.
“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 FIFA spokesperson said in the statement.
Budweiser, a major World Cup sponsor, owned by beer maker AB InBev, was to exclusively sell alcoholic beer within the ticketed perimeter surrounding each of the eight stadiums three hours before and one hour after each game.
“Tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup,” the statement said.
The reversal of that policy comes after long-term negotiations between FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Budweiser, and executives from Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which is organising the World Cup, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“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 source said.
“The thinking was that, for many fans, the presence of alcohol would not create an enjoyable experience.”
Alcohol will still be served inside the stadium hospitality zones, the source added.
Budweiser will sell its non-alcoholic beer throughout the stadium precincts, the statement said.
Neither Budweiser nor the SC responded to Reuters’ request for comment.
Questions have swirled around the role alcohol would play at this year’s World Cup since Qatar won hosting rights in 2010. While not a “dry” state like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, consuming alcohol in public places is illegal in Qatar.
Visitors cannot bring alcohol into Qatar, even from the airport’s duty free section, and most cannot buy alcohol at the country’s only liquor store. Alcohol is sold in bars at some hotels, where beer costs around $15 per half-litre.
Budweiser will still sell alcoholic beer at the main FIFA Fan Fest in central Doha, the source said, where it is offered for about $14 per half pint. Alcohol will also be sold in some other fan zones whereas others are alcohol-free.
“Fans can decide where they want to go without feeling uncomfortable. At stadiums, this was previously not the case,” the source said.
(Reporting by Andrew Mills; Editing by Jan Harvey and Christian Radnedge)