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Dry World Cup stadiums

Dry World Cup stadiums

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With just days to go before kick-off, Qatar banned beer from its World Cup stadiums. What happens to all the beer?

Just before the men’s football World Cup kicked off, Qatar banned beer from its stadiums. Budweiser, which has exclusive rights to sell beer at the tournament, tweeted that it was awkward and then deleted it… 

So what happened to all that alcohol? And what does it reveal about the future of the tournament? 

***

For many football fans around the world, the sport goes hand in hand with something else: booze. 

[Clip: England fans chanting]

This year’s World Cup was supposed to be the same.

Despite Qatar being a conservative Muslim nation where the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled, it was supposed to be available in stadiums.

That was, until, it wasn’t

“Right I want to bring you some breaking news now from the Fifa men’s World Cup Fifa says that fans will not be allowed to buy alcohol around World Cup stadiums in Doha.” 

BBC News

Just days before the tournament was due to start, the World Cup hosts made an unprecedented u-turn. 

Soon afterwards Fifa confirmed the details in a somewhat frosty statement…

“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.”

Fifa statement, read by an actor

That last line about AB InBev’s response might not seem important, but it is. 

AB InBev is a brewing company. In fact, it’s the world’s largest brewer – and it makes Budweiser, the beer which has sponsored the World Cup since the 1980s. 

Budweiser has a 63 million pound sponsorship deal with Fifa. That deal gives the company sales exclusivity… but also requires it to provide vast quantities of beer for the tournament… which is why Budweiser tweeted…

“Well, this is awkward…”

Budweiser tweet, read by an actor

It then deleted it, but it is awkward. Budweiser was expecting to cater for millions of people in Qatar and it was reported that tanks filled with stock had already arrived in the country. So what’s going to happen to all the leftover beer? 

***

By the time the news was announced many fans were on their way to the World Cup – or were already there. The response was mixed. 

“Beer is… of course we need. It’s a necessity.”

News clip

“In that sense I might not be a true Belgian, but I don’t mind a non-alcoholic beer.”

News clip

“It is a fact that we always celebrate with drink, right? Before or after. So I think it can make some of the difference, but it is not a critical fact.”

News clip

There were signs that something like this was coming. 

In mid-November the host nation asked Budweiser to make its advertising less prominent and relocate its beer tents. The company scrambled to make their red branding more discreet.

Days later – discretion wasn’t enough. Beer was banned.  

The decision reportedly came from the country’s royal family. Organisers say it’s about making sure that everyone feels comfortable, and crucially remains safe, during the matches. And that includes people who don’t drink or don’t want to be around alcohol.

You can still buy beers for nearly £12 a pop in designated fan zones, if you’re willing to stomach the queues, but not in stadiums.

Unless you’ve splashed out on a hospitality package. Fans in the corporate areas of the stadiums – where the cheapest suites cost around £20,000 – are able to enjoy alcohol in their luxury boxes. 

Still, that won’t make up the loss for Budweiser. 

So instead of selling the beer… it’s promised to send what’s leftover to the winning nation, and host a victory celebration on their behalf. 

It’s making the most of the situation, using the hashtag “bring the bud home”. But in the long term this story raises bigger questions for Fifa than it does for Budweiser. 

***

Alcohol restrictions during football matches aren’t rare. You can’t buy alcohol in stadiums at all during matches in Scotland, and you can’t drink in the stands in the English men’s top divisions. 

It’s associated with violence and antisocial behaviour, and it can be really alienating for people who want to enjoy the match but don’t feel comfortable around booze – or feel threatened by the way some drunk fans behave.

[Clip: fans shouting and cheering with sounds of smashing in the background]

This has been a point of contention for Fifa before previous World Cups. 

Back in 2012, Fifa pushed Brazil to ignore a national stadium alcohol ban, taking a hard line – and saying that alcoholic drinks were a non-negotiable part of the World Cup. 

The big difference between then and now… is that Fifa didn’t get its own way this time. 

And that’s important beyond who gets to drink what and where, because it makes it look like world football’s governing body is losing control of the tournament. 

Budweiser is making the most of the publicity, but such a last minute u-turn could have broken the terms of the company’s sponsorship deal. It might leave Fifa facing hefty financial losses and having to renegotiate future contracts with the company for upcoming tournaments. 

Hosting a beer-fuelled victory party in the winning nation will be a very visible reminder of that upended agreement for future corporate partners.

And it has left fans, and players, wondering what other promises could still be broken.

This episode was written and mixed by Claudia Williams.