DOHA: Qatar banned beer sales around eight stadiums in a stunning policy U-turn on Friday, just two days before the start of the World Cup football tournament.

The game’s world governing body, FIFA, said the decision was taken following “discussions” with the World Cup host country, which restricts alcohol consumption.

It gave no reason for the surprise decision, but media reports said there had been an intervention by Qatar’s ruling family.

The decision could affect FIFA’s deal with major sponsor beer-maker AB InBev, while fan groups said supporters should be concerned for other promises made by the hosts.

A FIFA statement said only that alcohol would be focused on fan zones, “removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup stadium perimeters”.

The move brought fresh criticism for Qatar, already under pressure over its rights record.

“The real issue is the last minute u-turn which speaks to a wider problem — the total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters,” said the Football Supporters Association in England.

“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 fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”

Dozens of beer tents had already been set up at stadiums ahead of the first game on Sunday.

Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars preparing for the World Cup and has predicted that more than one million fans will visit the country for the 29-day tournament.

But its strict cultural rules — homosexuality is also criminalised _ have faced international scrutiny.

Organising committee chief executive Naser Al Khater said in September that the availability of beer was one of the “unfair” criticisms that Qatar had faced.

“I think that there is a misconception regarding the sale of alcohol in the stadiums,” he said at the time.

“We are working as any other World Cup where this is something typical and usual, and it is no different than any other World Cup.”

He said it would be “business as usual”.

FIFA earns tens of millions of dollars every year from its sponsorship contract with AB InBev, the maker of Budweiser, the only beer available at official venues.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2022

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