Just two days before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, soccer’s world governing body FIFA confirmed that no alcohol will be sold at the eight stadiums which will host the tournament’s 64 matches.
“Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeter,” said the FIFA statement.
The Muslim country is considered to be very conservative and tightly regulates alcohol sales and usage.
In September, Qatar had said it would permit ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup soccer matches starting three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums,” added the FIFA 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.”
While some fans may be pleased the stadiums are alcohol free, others are confused and frustrated – including 21-year-old student Arnov Paul-Choudhury.
“It’s the World Cup, it’s football, you need to be able to drink around the stadium,” he told CNN Sport in Doha. “I just don’t think they’re doing the right things to attract fans.”
Budweiser was set to sell beer within the ticketed perimeter surrounding each of the eight stadiums before and after each game.
The beer brand, which is one of FIFA’s partners, tweeted, “Well, this is awkward,” though the social media post was quickly deleted.
Budweiser is owned by the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“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,” continued the FIFA statement.
Budweiser pays around $75 million for its sponsorship agreement with FIFA, according to the New York Times.
“As partners of FIFA for over three decades, we look forward to our activations of FIFA World Cup™ campaigns around the world to celebrate football with our consumers,” said an AB InBev spokesperson.
“Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), the national representative body for football fans in England and Wales, has condemned the decision on beer sales.
In a statement released on Friday, the FSA said: “Some fans like a beer at the match, and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which is speaks to a wider problem – the total lack of communications and clarity from the organising committee towards the supporters.
“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfill other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”
Fans will not be the only ones disappointed with the eleventh-hour U-turn.
Ben Peppi, head of sports services at JMW Solicitors, says the move is “hugely damaging” for FIFA’s brand.
“Brands will be treading very carefully now around FIFA for future tournaments,” he told CNN Sport. “Because if two days out before the biggest global sporting event that they host, they turn round to a brand and say, ‘you can’t do this and you can’t do that’ and breach that contract, that’s not going to give any security to any new brand.”
The 2022 Qatar World Cup runs from November 20 until December 18.
CNN is still waiting for an official statement from Qatar’s Supreme Committee.
CNN’s Alasdair Howorth and Ben Church contributed to reporting.