Two days before the first ball is kicked at the World Cup, host Qatar banned the sale of beer at the stadiums where the soccer matches will be played.
The decision was a U-turn on the deal that the conservative Muslim country made to win the opportunity to host the month-long tournament and a blow to sponsor AB InBev, the brewing giant that owns Budweiser, and pays about $75 million to sponsor the hugely popular tournament, a relationship that stretches back to 1986. They are in negotiations for renewing their deal for the next World Cup in North America, according to The Associated Press.
Non-alcoholic beer Bud Zero will be sold at the eight stadiums, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, said in a statement, but added “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.”
Champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas, but most ticket holders cannot access those areas, The AP reported.
Budweiser’s Twitter account posted: “Well, this is awkward…” shortly after the announcement, then deleted the tweet, the AP said.
The last-minute flipflop came “after a sudden demand” that the New York Times reported “had come from inside the country’s royal family.”
Budweiser told the Times it only learned of the new plan on Saturday, eight days before the tournament’s first game. The company said it is “working with FIFA to relocate the concession outlets to locations as directed,” but declined to disclose if the company was getting the rights it was entitled to under its contracts, saying only that “our focus is on delivering the best possible consumer experience under the new circumstances.”
The decision appeared to reflect worry that the “prominent presence of alcohol at stadiums” could “unsettle the local population” and create a potential security problem, the Times reported.
But it also highlighted the difficulty Qatar has had trying to balance the demands of FIFA and worldwide soccer fans with concerns about a culture clash in the conservative Muslim country, the Times wrote.
Alcohol is not banned in Qatar, as it is in other Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, but it is generally limited for sale to visitors at bars inside designated hotels.
“Qatari officials had struggled for years to devise a plan for the World Cup, where beer has flowed freely for generations, before finally deciding that the sale of alcoholic beverages would be permitted within a security perimeter outside venues but not inside the stadium bowls themselves,” the Times reported.
The decision is the latest issue to rile the relationship between FIFA and Budweiser since Qatar won the right to host the tournament in 2010. Beyond sales points, even just getting supplies into the country was a tussle.