Qatar has announced it is banning beer from being sold at its match stadiums for the World Cup, in a last minute reversal that came just two days before the country was set to host the first match on Sunday Nov. 20.
The sale of alcohol is strictly restricted in Qatar, with alcohol only served to non-Muslims over the age of 21 in licensed restaurants, bars and hotels.
Exceptions had initially been made for the soccer tournament, with organizers stressing they would focus on finding a middle ground between fans’ tastes and Qatar’s conservative culture.
On Friday Nov. 18, FIFA announced that only non-alcoholic drinks, including non-alcoholic beer, will be sold at the eight stadiums.
Alcoholic beers will only be available in the evenings at the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also has live music and activities, while champagne, wine ,whiskey and other alcoholic drinks will served in luxury hospitality areas.
In a statement by World Cup organizers FIFA, the decision for a dryer event came following further discussions with Qatari authorities.
“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,” FIFA said in its statement.
The decision comes just a week after it was announced that beer tents from Budweiser, the official World Cup sponsor and beer of the tournament, would be moved to more discreet locations.
Budweiser had already shipped the majority of its stock from Britain to Qatar with the expectation of selling it to millions of fans, according to AP.
FIFA’s latest move has raised questions over how much control it really has over its tournament.
In 2014, it had convinced Brazil, which was holding the 2014 World Cup, into changing a 2003 law to allow beer to be sold in stadiums.
“For many fans, whether they don’t drink alcohol or are used to dry stadium policies at home, this is a detail. It won’t change their tournament,” the directer of fan group, Football Supporters Europe tweeted. “But with 48 [hours] to go, we’ve clearly entered a dangerous territory — where ‘assurances’ don’t matter anymore.”
Rights groups have raised concerns about how Qatar will host millions of foreign fans, who may violate the country’s Islamic laws that forbid being drunk in public, sex outside of marriage and same-sex relationships.
Thousands of fans had heard the news only after arriving in Doha and have expressed their disappointment.
“It’s a disaster; I didn’t expect that news,” Diego Anbric, a 29-year-old Mexican fan told the New York Times. “It’s terrible news. It’s part of the environment of the stadium, the beer.”
The first match is scheduled to played on Sun, Nov 21 between host country Qatar and Ecuador.