DOHA, Qatar —The sale of all beer with alcohol at the eight World Cup stadiums was banned Friday, only two days before the soccer tournament is set to start. Non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at the 64 matches in the country.
“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 ... stadium perimeters,” FIFA said in a statement.
A Budweiser sign at the Fan Festival in Doha, Qatar, on Friday, ahead of the start of the FIFA World Cup.
Champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol is still expected to be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the stadiums.
Ronan Evain, the executive director of the fan group Football Supporters Europe, called the decision to ban beer sales at the stadiums “extremely worrying.”
“For many fans, whether they don’t drink alcohol or are used to dry stadium policies at home, this is a detail. It won’t change their tournament,” Evain wrote on Twitter. “But with 48 (hours) to go, we’ve clearly entered a dangerous territory — where ‘assurances’ don’t matter anymore.”
While a sudden decision like this may seem extreme in the West, Qatar is an autocracy governed by a hereditary emir, who has absolute say over all governmental decisions.
Qatar, an energy-rich Gulf Arab country, follows an ultraconservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism like neighboring Saudi Arabia. However, alcohol sales have been permitted in hotel bars for years.
Qatar’s government and its Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Already, the tournament has seen Qatar change the date of the opening match only weeks before the World Cup began.
Budweiser’s parent company, AB InBev, pays tens of millions of dollars at each World Cup for exclusive rights to sell beer and has already shipped the majority of its stock from Britain to Qatar in expectation of selling its product to millions of fans. The company’s partnership with FIFA started at the 1986 tournament and they are in negotiations for renewing their deal for the next World Cup in North America.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements of selling alcohol in stadiums, and again when signing contracts after winning the vote in 2010.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the host country was forced to change a law to allow alcohol sales in stadiums.
Ab InBev did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company will be based at an upscale hotel in the West Bay area of Doha with its own branded nightclub for the tournament.