The eyes of the world are turning their attention toward the Middle East this week, as one of the most beloved sporting spectacles of all time begins anew.
It’s the World Cup, and the stage is set this time in Qatar – a nation that many believed would not be a good fit for soccer’s ultimate event due to their strict moral code and somewhat antiquated belief system.
And boy, are they getting to say I told you so in a big way on Friday.
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.
And, to make things even worse…
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.
The alcohol situation was a mess from the start:
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’s official Twitter account was at least able to make light of the situation, tweeting simply “Well, this is awkward…” with no further elaboration.