For fans of the global game of soccer, there is no time like the present. With intense anticipation, the lovers of all-things-futbol will converge upon Qatar to enjoy “the beautiful game” played at its highest level.
It’s World Cup time, and the entire planet appears to be getting ready to have a good time.
Well, except for host-nation Qatar, who just pulled a fast one on fans with only 48 hours to go before the players hit the pitch for the first matches.
Qatar banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums on Friday, a sudden U-turn on the deal the conservative Muslim emirate made to secure the soccer tournament with only two days to go before the opening game.
The move was the latest sign of the tension of staging the event, which is not just a sports tournament but also a monthlong party, in the autocratic country where the sale of alcohol is heavily restricted. It’s also a significant blow to World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser and raised questions about how much control FIFA retains over its tournament.
There were some previous concerns about the potential trouble some months ago as well.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements of selling alcohol in stadiums — but the details were only released in September, just 11 weeks before the first kickoff, suggesting how fraught the negotiations may have been. Friday’s statement from FIFA said non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.
But the vast majority of ticket holders don’t have access to those areas; they will be able to drink alcoholic beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities. Outside of the tournament-run areas, Qatar puts strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, though its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years.
Budweiser, whose parent company is a major sponsor of the competition, tweeted “Well, this is awkward…” after the news broke, but without referencing the issue directly.