Soccer Supporters Rage at Qatar World Cup as Stadium Beer Ban Becomes Latest Controversy

Just two days before the first game kicks off, the most controversial soccer World Cup in history managed to bubble up even more outrage by announcing Friday that alcohol will not be sold at any of the eight stadiums in Qatar.

FIFA originally said alcohol would be available to buy “in select areas within stadiums” despite the Muslim country’s strict controls. But on Friday, soccer’s international governing body released a statement saying non-alcoholic Bud Zero would be the only beer available to fans attending the games.

“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,” FIFA said in a statement announcing the volte-face Friday.

The sale of alcohol at the monthlong tournament, which begins with a match between Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday, has been a continuous source of contention, and not just for fans. Budweiser, which has a reported $75 million sponsorship deal with FIFA, last week saw its red beer tents at Qatari stadiums moved to discrete locations to be away from the busiest thoroughfares. Following confirmation of the complete stadium ban Friday, Budweiser wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Well, this is awkward.”

The last-minute change of plan is just the latest controversy associated with the tournament which has been a seemingly bottomless well of outrages since Qatar was announced as the 2022 World Cup host in 2010.

The treatment of migrant laborers involved in building the stadiums has attracted international condemnation from human rights groups for years. Thousands of young migrant workers have died in Qatar’s searing heat over the last decade, with organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch calling for Qatari authorities to compensate their families.

International observers have also denounced Qatar’s discrimination of LGBT people, with homosexuality punishable by imprisonment and death in some cases. Ambassadors for the tournament including soccer star David Beckham have been heavily criticized for taking money to promote the Qatar World Cup after previously embracing the gay community.

Even the logistical oddities of hosting the tournament in Qatar have proved a massive headache for soccer. The country’s punishing summer heat meant that the World Cup would have to be played for the first time in winter, disrupting domestic leagues the world over.

And despite having 12 years to plan the tournament, the stadium beer ban isn’t the only policy change to be unveiled at the eleventh hour. In August, it was announced that the opening ceremony and first game would be brought forward by one day so that Qatar vs. Ecuador would be the opening match instead of Monday’s tie between the Netherlands and Senegal.

Rumors have also abounded this week that groups of “fake fans” being paid to act as cheerleaders at the World Cup after videos shared on social media were greeted with skepticism. The tournament’s supreme committee rejected the claims which it said were “disappointing and unsurprising.”

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