DOHA, Qatar — Beer is out at the World Cup.
In an abrupt and stunning about-face, Qatari officials have decided that the only alcohol that will be on sale to fans at stadiums during the monthlong World Cup that begins on Sunday will be nonalcoholic.
The decision on beer sales was confirmed on Friday morning by a World Cup official familiar with the change in plans. The official asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak with the news media, and because Qatar was still preparing its official announcement on Friday morning.
The move is the latest and most dramatic change to an evolving alcohol plan that has for months increased tensions between FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, and Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation where the sale of alcohol is tightly controlled. But it also will complicate FIFA’s $75 million sponsorship agreement with Budweiser; infuriate fans already chafing at restrictions; and once again leave organizers scrambling to adjust — this time only 48 hours before the tournament’s opening game.
But it also suggested that FIFA, which has faced years of blistering criticism for its decision to bring its showpiece championship to Qatar, may no longer be in full control of major decisions related to its event.
The ban on alcohol sales to fans at stadiums — beer will still be available in luxury suites reserved for FIFA officials and other wealthy guests — comes a week after an earlier edict that dozens of red beer tents bearing Budweiser’s branding be moved to more discrete locations at the World Cup’s eight stadiums, away from where most of the crowds attending games would pass.
Qatar has grappled with the subject of alcohol every 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 permitted to buy beer and other alcoholic beverages in upscale hotel bars and at unusually high prices.
World Cup organizers declined to comment on the new plan for alcohol on Friday. Representatives for Budweiser, who had said last week that they were blindsided to Qatar’s earlier changes to their sales strategy for the World Cup, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Last week, Qatari organizers tried to play down the rising tension over beer sales, a fixture of World Cups for generations, by saying operational plans were still being finalized, and that changes were still being made in “the location of certain fan areas.” Its statement also noted that “pouring times and the number of pouring destinations” remained the same at 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 relocate the concession outlets to locations as directed.”
Friday’s newest plan means the brewer’s red tents now may not be visible at all around stadiums; unbranded white replacements are being considered. Refrigerators in the company’s famous red colors are likely to be replaced by blue ones, the color associated with Budweiser’s nonalcoholic brand, Budweiser Zero.