FIFA has today (Friday) confirmed a major about-turn on the eve of the 2022 World Cup by announcing that alcoholic beverages will no longer be sold to fans inside or around the perimeter of Qatari stadia.
The announcement, which had been the subject of increasing speculation over the past 24 hours, will essentially restrict AB InBev, which first joined the FIFA sponsorship family through its Budweiser brand for the 1986 World Cup, to only be able to sell its alcoholic beverages to fans in the hospitality areas of Qatar 2022 stadia.
A statement FIFA released on behalf of itself and the ‘host country’ read: “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.
“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero, which will remain available at all Qatar 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.”
Ahead of this morning’s announcement, AB InBev had its own say on the matter through the Budweiser Twitter account. A now deleted tweet read: “Well, this is awkward…”
The last-minute change, coming ahead of Sunday’s opening match between the host nation and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium, is unlikely to please one of FIFA’s major commercial partners. In October 2011, AB InBev extended its existing 25-year-old partnership with FIFA to serve as the official beer of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The tournament will be the first edition to take place in the Middle East, and Qatar, a predominantly Muslim country, has strict laws on drinking alcohol in public spaces. The role of alcohol at Qatar 2022 has been the subject of much debate since the hosting rights were awarded in December 2010.
However, an agreement had been reached in September relating to the sale of alcohol to fans attending games. Today’s announcement was preceded by news earlier this week that Budweiser had been forced to move its beer stands to less prominent locations at stadiums, to avoid potentially being completely shut down by Qatari officials.