One of the world’s biggest beer brands has responded after Qatar has banned the sale of all alcoholic drinks in World Cup stadiums – just two days before the tournament begins.
The Muslim nation had promised organisers FIFA it would relax its strict laws to allow fans to drink beer at matches and inside fan zones.
But, despite Budweiser – owned by Belgian beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) – having a massive $112 million sponsorship deal with FIFA, Qatar has now decided to renege on its vow.
Alcohol is still expected to be sold in corporate zones, which wealthy fans can pay thousands of dollars to enter.
“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 Fifa World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters,” a FIFA spokesman said.
“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.
“Host country authorities and Fifa will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans.
“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Budweiser’s sassy response to ban
On Twitter Budweiser responded to the ban with a simple one line message.
“Well, this is awkward …” stated a tweet from its official account.
That tweet has now been deleted.
In a more official capacity AB InBev said in a statement that it “looked forward” to its “activations” at World Cup tournaments.
“Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control”.
Qatar had initially asked Budweiser hoardings to be made less prominent.
The sale of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Qatar and the Arab state only allows it in hotels and bars away from street view.
The New York Times said the intervention was made by Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruler.
FIFA, the world governing body of association football, could be in breach of its multimillion-dollar contract with Budweiser if it is not allowed to sell its product or have visibility at the matches.
It comes after reports the Qatari Royal Family made a direct request to FIFA for Budweiser to move beer tents away from stadiums to less prominent locations.
The beer giant, which reportedly pays $US75m ($A112m) each four years to be the tournament’s official alcohol sponsor, was seen moving its tents last week.
Budweiser owner AB InBev told Sky News it was only informed of the decision that its branded tents must be relocated eight days before the tournament was scheduled to start.
“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,” the company said.
“Our focus is on delivering the best possible consumer experience under the new circumstances.”
The New York Times posted a video of the tents being moved.
There have been warnings for fans who attend the World Cup. Homosexuality, swearing and drinking alcohol or being drunk in public are criminal acts in Qatar.
Radha Stirling, founder and director of the Detained in Dubai legal aid group, which has launched an app to help World Cup fans facing problems, said fans could end up in trouble for trivial issues.
“Qatar has not experienced mass tourism before this year and it is highly likely visitors will get into trouble, similar to the cases we have seen in Dubai over the past decade,” she told The Sun.
“It is difficult to advise people to ‘obey the law’ when the laws are so strict that Qatar is telling police to ‘go easy on tourists’ during the cup.
“Arbitrary enforcement of the law creates confusion and risk to visitors.
“Like in Dubai, people are often singled out when a complaint is made to police by a local Qatari who has been ‘offended’ by a visitor.
“The police are then obliged to act on the complaint.”
Qatar World Cup organisers said last week there were still thousands of rooms available for the tournament despite fears that the tiny Gulf state would be overflowing with fans when the tournament started.
There were at least 25,000 rooms free even during the peak days of the World Cup, expected between November 24 and November 28, organising committee accommodation director Omar Al-Jaber told a press conference.
Asked about fears over hotel shortages, Jaber said: “This is not the right message. We have enough accommodation and people can come and enjoy the tournament and choose what they are looking for.”
Qatar has been at the centre of widespread criticism over its human rights record, but organisers say 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold.
Jaber said the country was still expecting more than one million visitors during the 29-day event that starts November 20.
— with AFP