FIFA president Gianni Infantino played down Qatar’s last-minute ban on beer sales at World Cup stadiums on Saturday as just a brief inconvenience for spectators.
“If this is the biggest problem we have, I will sign it (agreement),” Infantino said on Saturday, a day after the conservative Muslim emirate overhauled a deal it had made to secure the soccer tournament.
Infantino blamed the decision on “a lot of people” in Doha, although it appeared to be a decision by Qatar’s autocratic government to appease its conservative Wahhabi citizens who were already angered by some of the events surrounding the tournament, which they see as Western excesses.
Infantino said the ban on beer in stadiums was brought about jointly by Qatari and FIFA officials.
“We’ve been trying until the end to see if it’s possible,” Infantino said of allowing the sale of alcohol. “If you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive. Maybe there’s a reason why in France, in Spain, in Scotland alcohol is banned in stadiums. Maybe they’re more intelligent than us, thinking maybe we should do that.”
Spectators can drink alcoholic beer in the evening at the “FIFA Fan Festival”, a special entertainment area that also offers live music and activities. Qatar places strict restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, although its sale has been allowed for years in hotel bars outside the tournament area.
The World Cup begins on Sunday with the opening match between host country Qatar and Ecuador, and when Qatar made its pitch to host the tournament, the country agreed to FIFA’s demands that alcohol be sold in stadiums. The alcohol plans were announced just 11 weeks before kick-off, then changed on Friday.
FIFA says non-alcoholic beer will continue to be sold in eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.
Previous World Cup hosts have been asked to make concessions. For the 2014 World Cup, Brazil was forced to change the law to allow alcohol sales in stadiums — but the same cultural issues were not at play.
Budweiser’s parent company AB InBev renewed its sponsorship deal with FIFA in 2011, after Qatar was chosen as the host. However, the Belgian brewery has faced uncertainty in recent months over the exact details of where it can serve and sell beer in Qatar.
Infantio denied that the beer ban had harmed FIFA’s relationship with Budweiser, its official beer sponsor.
“We have been partners for several decades and look forward to a partnership for the future,” he said. “This situation has brought us even closer.”