Alcohol has given Qatar a headache ever since it won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The sale and consumption of booze is heavily restricted in the conservative Arab Gulf nation.
But FIFA has long been protective of its commercial interests, and with Budweiser as one of its highest-profile sponsors since the 1986 tournament in Mexico, drinking has been as reliable a part of the quadrennial festivities as the sport itself.
Initially, Qatar had agreed to relax its rules around the availability and sale of alcohol for the World Cup. But last week, just eight days before the opening ceremonies on Nov. 20, Budweiser, which has exclusive rights to sell beer at the soccer tournament, was given a sudden, top-down order to move its beer stalls at stadium concourses to more discreet locations. Anonymous sources told The New York Times that the abrupt directive came from the Qatari royal family, namely Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruling emir, amid concerns that excessive visibility of alcohol would upset the local population and create security problems.
On Friday, just two days before the first kickoff, the Associated Press reported that tournament organizers have decided to ban the sale of alcoholic beer entirely at all eight World Cup stadiums.
Below, what to know about the sale of alcohol at the Qatar World Cup.
What are Qatar’s rules on drinking?
Unlike its only neighboring country Saudi Arabia, Qatar is not an entirely dry country, but it does have strict rules around alcohol. According to Qatar’s World Cup cultural awareness guidance, alcohol consumption is “not part of local culture” and is only served to non-Muslims over the age of 21 in licensed restaurants, bars, and hotels. There is one liquor store in Qatar that is accessible for non-Muslim residents. Additionally, it’s forbidden to bring alcohol into Qatar from abroad. Fans breaching these rules could be subject to deportation or fines of up to 3,000 riyal ($823), though how much authorities enforce such laws during the tournament remains a question-mark.
Drinking rules had been relaxed for the tournament. While normally drinking or being drunk in public is illegal, fans in Qatar will be allowed, assuming no other last-minute rule changes, to drink in specific, official fan zones after 6:30pm.
According to ESPN, there will be designated sobering-up areas for fans who are drunk. Qatar’s World Cup chief executive, Nasser Al Khater, described these as “a place to make sure that they keep themselves safe, they’re not harmful to anybody else.”
What will World Cup attendees be able to drink?
Drinking inside the stadium perimeters during matches remains prohibited. Most will only be able to consume non-alcoholic Budweiser Zero and Coca-Cola products. (According to FIFA’s website, those who shell out upwards of $30,000 for tickets in the “hospitality” lounges will have access to alcohol.)
This limitation is not entirely unprecedented; prior World Cup hosts Brazil and Russia also prohibited drinking in stadiums, but FIFA successfully pressured both countries to lift those rules for the 2014 and 2018 tournaments, respectively.
How much will alcohol cost?
Half a liter of Budweiser will reportedly cost 50 Qatari riyal ($13.73), while the non-alcoholic version will be 30 riyal ($8.24) and water will cost 10 riyal ($2.75). Entertainment site Betting.com has analyzed the average cost of a beer in all 32 World Cup qualifying countries, with Qatar coming out on top, at nearly twice the cost of Denmark in the number two spot.
Despite this, it was previously indicated by Al Khater that prices for beer in the fan zones and stadiums would be much lower for fans. In September, he said, “We recognise there is an issue with the price and it is something we are looking into. We are looking at finding ways to reduce the price of alcohol.”
Why are Qatar’s rules strict?
The rules reflect Qatar’s conservative culture. But the country has undergone a rapid economic transformation in recent decades, on the back of a hydrocarbons boom, from a small pearl trading outpost into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Foreigners now make up 90% of the population.
Though alcohol has been traditionally restricted in the Arab Gulf, it has a long history in the wider Middle East. Wine has been cultivated for millenia, and alcohol is available in a range of countries, like Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan.