DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar has banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums On Friday, a surprising surprise turnaround took place in the deal the conservative Islamic emirate struck to secure the football championship just two days before the opening match.
The move was the latest sign of tension over staging the event, which is not just a sporting tournament but also a month-long party, in an authoritarian country where the sale of alcoholic beverages is severely restricted.. It’s also a huge blow to World Beer Cup sponsor Budweiser and has raised questions about how much control FIFA has over its tournament.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, the country agreed to Fifa’s requirements for alcohol to be sold in stadiums – but the details were not revealed until September., just 11 weeks before the first launch, indicating how difficult the negotiations were. Fifa’s statement on Friday said non-alcoholic beer will continue to be sold in the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.
But the vast majority of ticket holders do not have access to those areas; They will be able to drink alcoholic beers in the evening at the FIFA Fan Festival, a dedicated party area that also offers live music and activities. Outside of the tournament areas, Qatar places strict restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, although it was allowed to be sold in hotel bars for years.
“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, and to remove beer sales points from…the perimeter of the stadium,” FIFA said. in the current situation.
When the news broke, Budweiser’s Twitter account tweeted: “Well this is embarrassing…” without elaborating. The tweet was later deleted.
Ab InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, acknowledged in a statement that some of its plans “could not move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
The company pays tens of millions of dollars each World Cup for exclusive rights to sell beer, and has already shipped the majority of its stock from Britain to Qatar in hopes of selling its products to millions of fans. While actual sales at the tournament may not represent a large percentage of the company’s massive revenue, the World Cup is a huge opportunity for the brand.
The company’s partnership with FIFA began in the 1986 tournament, and they are in negotiations to renew their deal for the next World Cup in North America.
Ronan Even, executive director of fan group Football Supporters Europe, described the decision to ban the sale of beer in stadiums in Qatar as “extremely worrying”.
“For many fans, whether they don’t drink alcohol or are used to drying stadium politics at home, these are details. But with 48 (hours) to go, it’s clear we’ve entered dangerous territory – where you’re no longer,” Even wrote on Twitter. Affirmations are “important”.
Qatar, which is ruled by a hereditary emir who has the ultimate say in all government decisions, follows an ultra-conservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism like neighboring Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Qatar has transformed into a very modern hub after the natural gas boom of the 1990s, but has faced pressure from within To remain true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots. Islam forbids drinking alcohol.
In the run-up to the World Cup, rights groups have raised concerns about how the country will host millions of foreign fans, some of whom may be violating Islamic laws that criminalize public drunkenness, extramarital sex and homosexuality.
The Qatari government or the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Friday’s decline was not Qatar’s first – but it was the most significant. This past weekend, AB InBev was surprised by a new policy insisted on by the country regulators to move the beer kiosks to less visible locations within the stadium complexes.
Qatar also changed the date of the opening match Just weeks before the start of the World Cup.
Previous World Cup hosts have been asked to make concessions. For the 2014 tournament, Brazil had to change a law allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages in stadiums – but the same cultural issues weren’t present.
AB InBev’s deal with FIFA was renewed in 2011 – after choosing Qatar as host. However, the Belgium-based brewery has faced uncertainty in recent months over the exact details of where it can serve and sell its beer in Qatar. Some balk at the price, which is confirmed at $14 for a beer.
At the W Hotel in Doha – where the company will be based – workers continued assembling a Budweiser-themed bar planned for the site. The familiar AB logo is plastered on the pillars and walls of the hotel, with one reading: “The World Belongs To You.”
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report.
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