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the emir’s struggle to hide his beer consumption

The message came from the highest levels of the state of Qatar: “Beer tents should be moved to more discreet locations.” Without any kind of discussion.

With the opening match of the World Cup just days away, organizers have had to work quickly in recent days to change the location of Budweiser beer dispensers in the eight stadiums, following a sudden request from the emirate. The three people who relayed the message asked to remain anonymous and said they were not authorized to discuss sensitive details about tournament planning. Those responsible for organizing the World Cup confirmed the changes, which Budweiser only found out about on Saturday, eight days before the first match, which will face Qatar against Ecuador.

The decision to move the beer tents appeared to be motivated by concerns that the prominent presence of alcohol in stadiums could unsettle the local population and therefore pose a potential safety issue. But it also responds to an issue that has affected the preparation of the first World Cup in the Arab world, and more specifically in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country where access to alcohol is highly controlled. Ever since FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, awarded hosting rights to Qatar – in December 2010 – tournament organizers have struggled to meet their obligations (which include the sale of alcohol and offer promotional space for Budweiser, one of FIFA’s most important sponsors) and not clash with the country’s culture. It is not easy to bring a traditionally beer-soaked event to a Muslim nation.

Alcohol is not banned in Qatar, but most visitors can only buy it from hotel bars. FIFA and country officials negotiated for years to find a suitable solution for the World Cup, where beer has flowed freely for generations, before finally deciding that alcohol sales would be allowed in a security perimeter outside the venues , but not inside the stadiums themselves, where only soft drinks, water and non-alcoholic beer will be served.

75 million euros

However, moves that limit Budweiser’s brand or affect its ability to sell its products could complicate the contractual relationship between the brewer, FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers. Budweiser pays about $75 million to partner with the World Cup every four years. But the Qatar tournament has thrown up unusual obstacles and led to ongoing tensions between the company and FIFA over a range of issues, from agreeing beer outlets in Qatar to negotiating the arrival of supplies into the country. Budweiser’s contract with FIFA not only gives it exclusive sales, but also requires the company to provide large quantities of beer to FIFA partners and hotel customers.

Budweiser complains that FIFA did not inform it of the changes until last Saturday. “We are working with FIFA to move the points of sale to the new locations according to what is indicated to us”, they say from the brewery, which refuses to reveal whether what is stipulated in the contracts is being respected. “Our focus is on providing the best possible consumer experience in the new circumstances,” they say.

On the part of FIFA, the message that is transmitted is one of reassurance, without explicit mention of the controversy over the distribution of beer, as well as the times and places in which it can be served. “The operational plans related to the location of some are being finalised fan zones“, they claim.

The sudden change in alcohol sales is in line with everything that has been experienced during the organization of the event. Work to prepare hotels and other accommodations for the estimated one million visitors continues this week. And in August, for example, the date of the opening match – set for years – was suddenly brought forward by a day amid a global advertising campaign to mark the 100 days until the end.

Copyright The New York Times

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