By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar’s World Cup stadium stands are set to be alcohol-free, with beer sales outside arenas only allowed before and after some matches, a source with knowledge of plans for the soccer tournament said.
This year’s World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol, presenting unique challenges for organisers of an event often associated with beer drinking fans and sponsored by global brewing brands.
“At stadiums, the plans are still being finalised, but the current discussion is to allow fans to have beer upon arrival and when leaving stadium, but beer won’t be served during the match or inside the stadium bowl,” the source told Reuters.
A document dated June 2 and seen by Reuters gives the first insight into how organisers plan to handle the demands of an estimated 1.2 million soccer fans, many of whom are used to drinking beer without limits on match days.
Soccer’s relationship with booze has long been a tricky one and in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, Brazil lifted a ban on alcohol at stadiums, after pressure from governing body FIFA.
There has been a question mark over alcohol at this year’s tournament since the Gulf Arab state won hosting rights in 2010. While not a “dry” state like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, consuming alcohol in public places is illegal in Qatar.
However, fans at November’s World Cup will also be able to buy beer during restricted times in certain parts of the main FIFA fan zone in the Al Bidda park in Doha, the Qatari capital.
“Unlike previous World Cup fan zones, beer won’t be served all day long, but at restricted times,” the source added.
Alcohol will also be available for 15,000 to 20,000 fans on a disused corner of the Doha Golf Club, some kilometres away from stadiums and the main fan zone, the document shows.
In addition, a sandy plot surrounded by a 3 metre wall and located between the delivery entrance of a hotel and a district cooling plant will be transformed into a 10,000 capacity venue promising Techno music and alcohol, the document shows.
A spokesperson for the organisers, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said that together with FIFA they will announce plans on the availability of alcohol at the 28-day tournament “in due course”.
“Alcohol is already available in designated areas in Qatar, such as hotels and bars, and this will not change in 2022. With the aim of catering to visiting fans in 2022, alcohol will be available in additional designated areas during the tournament,” the spokesperson said.
Although FIFA’s website advertises free flowing “beers, Champagne, sommelier-selected wines, and premium spirits” in stadium VIP hospitality suites, alcohol was not sold in stadiums in December during a test event for the World Cup.
Visitors are prohibited from carrying alcohol into Qatar, even from airport duty free, and they cannot shop at the country’s only liquor store, on the outskirts of Doha, where foreign residents with permits can buy for home consumption.
Alcohol can be bought by visitors to Qatar at a handful of licensed hotels and clubs, where a pint of beer can cost $18.
The price of beer inside the fan zones and close to the stadium has not yet been agreed, the source said.
Earlier this year, another source close to the discussions told Reuters that alcohol prices will be capped in the fan zones, pointing out that at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019 a pint of beer cost around five pounds ($6.55).
Although the document anticipates “strong demand for international beverages”, it says the main party zone adjacent to FIFA’s fan festival will be alcohol-free, offering up to 70,000 fans a six kilometre “family friendly” street carnival.
Rules about alcohol sales in soccer stadiums vary around the world. In England, alcohol is sold at stadium concourses, but fans cannot drink it in sight of the pitch while in France none is permitted on stadium grounds.
(Reporting by Andrew Mills; Editing by Alexander Smith)