Fifa has banned the sale of alcohol at Qatar World Cup stadiums just 48 hours before the tournament starts with sponsor Budweiser trying to make light of the news.
The beer brand’s Twitter feed posted ‘well, this is awkward…’ moments before Fifa confirmed that alcohol sales will be confined to special ‘fan zones’ where pints cost £12, are only available at certain times, and are limited to four per person.
Plans had called for alcohol to be sold on stadium concourses, but this will now not happen – reportedly after pressure from Qatar’s all-powerful royal family. Alcohol will be available as normal in licensed hotels and restaurants.
The move puts Fifa on a collision course with Budweiser, which is thought to have a sponsorship deal worth $75million with the organizing body.
And the argument may yet drag Doha into a legal battle because officials agreed to ‘respect FIFA’s commercial partners’ when launching their hosting bid, and again when signing contracts after winning the vote in 2010.
The rule change is said to have been made following the request of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruler.
It is just the latest controversy to plague an already fraught World Cup – the first to be held in a Muslim nation – which has thrown football’s governing ethos and traditional trappings into conflict with the hosts’ conservative interpretation of Islam.
Fans in Qatar reacted with a mix of anger and resignation at the ban, with 25-year-old England supporter Alex Todd describing it as ‘madness’. ‘Why is the World Cup here when basic pleasures are taken from you,’ he asked.