Qatar officials ban beer from World Cup stadiums two days before tournament begins

DOHA, Qatar – The taps at the FIFA World Cup have run dry.

Alcoholic beer will no longer be sold at the World Cup stadiums in Qatar, according to a statement from FIFA on Friday. The change is a stunning about-face, given that Budweiser is one of the international governing body's longest and biggest sponsors and the start of the tournament is just two days away.

“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 ... stadium perimeters,” FIFA said.

Alcoholic beer will still be available at the Fan Festival along Doha's waterfront.

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Though alcohol isn’t illegal in Qatar, drinking in public is not allowed and it is a crime to be drunk in public. But Qatar assured FIFA officials when it was bidding for the World Cup, and again after it was awarded the tournament, that it would respect FIFA’s deals with sponsors and not impose local customs on the event.

So much for that.

"You have to understand the culture and accept this was always going to be a different World Cup," said Ryan Lahiff from London, who is at his third World Cup. "I am surprised they changed their minds this close to the tournament. They had 12 years to prepare. I don't think it bodes well."

FIFA and Qatari officials had initially compromised on beer sales, deciding alcoholic beer would be sold only within the stadium perimeter before and after games and not within the stadium itself – similar to how fans can tailgate outside some college stadiums but not purchase beer once they go inside. Non-alcoholic beer was to be sold, and still will be sold, on the stadium concourses.

There were rumblings earlier in the week that Qatari officials were upset with the prominent presence of alcoholic beverages and, according to The Associated Press, had ordered Budweiser stands to be moved to less visible places at the stadiums.

Then came the announcement that there would be no beer sold anywhere in the stadiums. FIFA gave no explanation for the sudden change of course, and Qatari organizers referred to FIFA's statement when asked for clarification.

"There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums," FIFA said. "The tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup."

News of the ban spread quickly along Doha's waterfront. While fans were surprised the ban was imposed so late, Rob Bartczak of Denver said it wasn't a big deal because he had initially assumed there would be no alcohol at the World Cup.

"I'm here for the culture, here for the world sport and everyone coming together," Bartczak said.

Still, the ban is an embarrassment for FIFA , which has spent 12 years defending its choice of the small Islamic country to host the world’s largest sporting event. Now the ban could harm its relationship with Budweiser, which has been a sponsor since the 1986 World Cup.

Budweiser’s parent company, AB InBev, pays a reported $75 million for the right to be the exclusive beer provider at the World Cup, where millions of fans from around the world come to watch games and party.

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"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," a spokesperson for AB InBev said. "Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control."

Some fans had already decided to skip this year's tournament, turned off by Qatar's exploitation and abuse of migrant workers and its anti-LGBTQ laws. Banning beer, especially after fans spent thousands of dollars to come here with the expectation they would be able to drink before and after games, is sure to cause further outrage.

"I guess they just made sure everyone was coming," said Amir Samadov of Denver, "and then at the last minute, changed their minds."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Cup stadiums hit with beer ban by Qatar officials