Qatar has barred the sale of beer in fan zones outside World Cup stadiums in an abrupt U-turn on alcohol policy just 48 hours before the tournament begins.
The Gulf state restricts the sale of alcohol to high-end hotels but agreed to allow the sale of Budweiser — one of the World Cup’s biggest sponsors — in designated areas outside the eight stadiums hosting games.
However, according to two people briefed on the organisers’ thinking, there has been a last-minute change of heart. Alcoholic drinks will now only be available in hospitality suites at stadiums and inside designated areas around Doha, such as the Fifa Fan Festival, where beer costs almost £12 a cup.
“I think the feeling and feedback they got was that stadiums will be for everyone so they want it to be a friendly atmosphere for those who want to drink and those who don’t,” said one of the people.
The move is embarrassing for Fifa, which has had a sponsorship deal with Budweiser for 30 years.
An announcement on the policy shift is expected later on Friday. Budweiser parent AB InBev, Fifa and Qatar’s organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alcohol is one of a number of thorny issues that organisers have grappled with since the tournament was awarded to Qatar in 2010. The New York Times reported last week that Budweiser had already been told to move beer tents to less visible locations outside stadiums.
The potential disruption caused by drunk fans is just one of the worries around policing one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Qatar is relying on a multinational force, including Pakistani soldiers and Turkish anti-riot police, to manage the hundreds of thousands of people expected in Doha for the month-long tournament.