With just 48 hours left for the World Cup to begin, the Qatari royal family has pressurized Fifa to completely ban alcohol sales at all eight stadiums during the tournament in an astonishing U-turn. Officials in Qatar have decided that the only drink that will be on sale to fans at stadiums during the monthlong World Cup will be nonalcoholic.
Contrary to earlier plans that allowed fans to purchase alcohol inside designated fan zones and on stadium concourses during specific hours, concourse sales will be prohibited now. Fifa confirmed the decision to ban alcohol sales in stadiums on Friday.
All Play and No Fun
According to reports, Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, asked for the rule change to be implemented by pressurizing Fifa.
"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 World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters," Fifa said in a statement.
"There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero, which will remain available at all Qatar's World Cup stadiums."
In September, Qatar said it would permit ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup soccer matches starting three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match. However, that's not going to happen anymore.
Spectators now won't be allowed to sit with a beer or any kind of alcohol in the stands during the matches, following the ban. However, alcohol can still be purchased by foreigners at licensed hotels and restaurants, as permitted under Qatari law.
The move puts Fifa at odds with Budweiser, one of the tournament's major sponsors and has a sponsorship deal worth $75million with the organizing body.
Budweiser was to serve beer inside the ticketed area around each of the eight stadiums before and after each game. However, company officials were told on Saturday to relocate stalls selling its product at stadiums to less prominent locations.
A complete ban on the sale of beer at the eight stadiums means Fifa would be in breach of a multi-million-dollar contract with Budweiser now.
In response to the request to move its outlets, AB InBev told Sky News: "AB InBev was informed on November 12 and are working with Fifa to relocate the concession outlets to locations as directed. We are working with Fifa to bring the best possible experience to the fans. Our focus is on delivering the best possible consumer experience under the new circumstances."
The only location where fans will now be able to consume alcoholic beverages is at designated fan parks, where Budweiser has previously disclosed that a 500ml beverage will cost fans a reasonable $13.80.
The World Cup, the first to be held in a Muslim country, has already been dogged by controversy. The current dispute has pitted football's governing ethos and traditional trappings against the hosts' orthodox interpretation of Islam.
Doha officials committed to respecting FIFA's corporate partners when they launched their hosting bid and again when they signed contracts after winning the vote in 2010. However, the dispute may still result in a legal dispute.
The rule in Qatar is abstinence, with non-Muslim locals only permitted to drink at home with a special permit and foreigners only permitted to purchase alcohol in locations with a license.
An exception has been made for fan zones during the World Cup, although sales are restricted to specific hours, and customers are only allowed four drinks at a time to prevent intoxication. Anyone who does consume alcohol risks being escorted to a special zone to sober up.
The Qatar World Cup has been dogged by controversy in more ways than one, including the selling of alcohol. The tournament is being held in the winter since summers there regularly reach 40C.
However, even in the dead of winter, heat will be oppressive, with daytime highs of around 30C and oppressive humidity.
In addition, Qatar is facing significant accusations of mistreating migrant workers who built the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure to accommodate more than one million visitors in a nation with a regular population of only 300,000. Many of these workers are believed to have perished in the heat.
Doha claims that only three fatalities can be directly attributed to the construction project. However, human rights organizations claim that number is probably in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Workers from some of the most underdeveloped nations in the world have claimed to receive daily wages of just one penny, and Qatar has been accused of deploying slave labor from North Korea on some of the projects.
Sepp Blatter, the former head of Fifa, who was forced to quit shortly after the Qatar World Cup was announced due to a corruption scandal, also recently said that the tournament was a "mistake."