West indian culture

Beer ban is latest flashpoint of World Cup culture shock

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Qatar, a small but fabulously wealthy Gulf country, spent 12 years preparing to host the FIFA World Cup, a marathon of planning and patience in which it redesigned an entire nation by building stadiums and hotels , roads and sidewalks, even a gleaming new subway system. .

Yet it wasn’t until Friday that he finally decided what to do with beer sales during the tournament, and his decision – much to the dismay of the estimated 1 million fans who were due to arrive in the next few days. – was to ban the sale of in the eight stadiums of the event.

The decision, announced by soccer’s world governing body FIFA, was a sharp U-turn by Qatar and the latest flashpoint in the ongoing culture shock inherent in hosting the tournament in a small, conservative monarchy. from the Middle-East.

Ever since Qatar surprisingly won the rights to host the World Cup more than a decade ago, local organizers and world football leaders have insisted that beer – a staple of sporting events around the world whole, but which is tightly controlled in Qatar – would be available to fans. Two days before the first World Cup game, however, that message changed.

Instead, Qatari officials have decided that the only drinks that will be on sale to fans at games will be non-alcoholic.

Thousands of fans arriving at the World Cup only heard the news after their flight had landed in Doha. A group of seven Mexican fans, who had recently arrived in Qatar, were stunned on Friday to learn they would not be able to drink inside stadiums.

“It’s a disaster; I didn’t expect this news,” said Diego Anbric, 29. He is attending his first World Cup. “It’s terrible news. It’s part of the environment of the stadium, the beer.

It’s unclear what prompted the ban so close to the tournament, but the sudden change was in line with the tournament’s ever-changing alcohol policy and availability to fans attending matches. Plans were repeatedly drawn up, then revised, then redone again – a possible signal that domestic politics or even the influence of the royal family was playing a part.

“Following discussions between the authorities of the host country and FIFA, it has been decided to concentrate the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues,” said said FIFA. The move, he said, would require “removing beer outlets from the perimeters of 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar stadiums”.

The decision to ban the beer comes a week after an earlier executive order that dozens of red beer tents covered in the branding of Budweiser, a longtime World Cup sponsor and the tournament’s official beer, should be moved to more discreet locations at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, away from where most of the crowds watching the matches would pass.

According to three people with direct knowledge of this earlier change, staff members were told the move followed safety advice. But the belief that the change originated with Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani – the brother of Qatar’s ruling emir and the royal most active in the day-to-day planning of the tournament – ​​suggested he was not non-negotiable.

From now on, the beer will no longer be simply hidden: it will not be available to fans at all.

The ban is the latest and most dramatic point of contention to date between FIFA and Qatar, which had requested and won the right to host the World Cup as part of an ambitious effort to announce on the world stage. In recent weeks, Qatari government leaders, including the emir, have mounted an increasingly vocal defense of their nation.

But their latest U-turn will infuriate fans, leave organizers scrambling to adapt and complicate FIFA’s $75 million sponsorship deal with Budweiser.

Budweiser has been an ubiquitous presence at the World Cup since first signing up as a FIFA sponsor a year before the 1986 event in Mexico, and it once again planned to be a major presence in Qatar.

On Friday, he had already taken over the luxurious W Hotel in one of Doha’s most exclusive areas, where he planned to welcome guests and offer them live screenings of matches – and beer.

But he was powerless to stop Qatar’s ban on his products, which also suggested that FIFA, which has faced years of harsh criticism for its decision to bring its flagship championship to the country, may no longer full control over major decisions related to an event.

Ten years ago, for example, the football body lobbied Brazil, which was hosting the 2014 World Cup, to achieve the opposite result: lean on the Brazilian government to change a law allowing the sale of beer in stadiums, a practice that had been banned in Brazil since 2003.

In Qatar, FIFA bowed to the demands of the host country. This raised the possibility that other pledges that conflict with local laws and customs – including issues such as freedom of the press, street protests and LGBTQ+ visitor rights – may not be as strong as Qatar and FIFA said so.

The Football Supporters’ Association, a supporters’ advocacy group based in Britain, criticized the decision.

“Some fans like a beer in a game and some don’t, but the real problem is the last-minute U-turn which speaks to a larger issue – the complete lack of communication and clarity from the organizing committee. towards the fans,” the group said in a statement.

“While they can change their minds on this at any time, without explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfill other promises regarding accommodation, transport or cultural matters.”

The ban on alcohol consumption appeared to apply only to fans attending matches. Beer and other beverages, including official FIFA champagne and a range of wines selected by a sommelier, will still be available in the stadium’s luxury suites reserved for FIFA officials and other high net worth guests.

Qatar has grappled with alcohol issues since the tiny Gulf nation was awarded World Cup hosting rights in 2010. Alcohol is available in the country, but sales are strictly controlled. Most visitors, even before the World Cup, were only allowed to buy beer and other alcoholic beverages in upscale hotel bars and at unusually high prices.

World Cup organizers appeared keen to appease Budweiser and its parent company, Belgian multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev, saying: “Tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continued support of our shared commitment to meet everyone’s needs.

Initially, the company’s only public statement was a tongue-in-cheek statement from its Twitter account, which read, “Well, that’s embarrassing…”. The tweet was deleted around 90 minutes later, just before FIFA’s statement was released.

Later, a representative for the company said it would have to cancel some of its World Cup marketing plans “due to circumstances beyond our control”.

Qatari organizers last week tried to play down growing tension over beer sales, a staple of World Cups for generations, saying operational plans were still being finalized and changes were still in the works. course in “the location of certain fan areas”. His statement also noted that “tap times and number of tap destinations” remained the same across all eight stadiums.

Budweiser, which pays FIFA the $75 million for each four-year World Cup cycle, had said it was working with organizers “to move concession outlets to designated locations”.

The most recent plan means that the red brewer’s tents may now not be visible everywhere around the stadiums; unbranded white replacements are being considered. The company’s famous red-colored refrigerators will likely be replaced with blues, the color associated with Budweiser’s non-alcoholic brand, Budweiser Zero.

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