Drinking before, during and after a football match is a favorite habit of many supporters around the world. But alcohol is not quite ready at Qatar 2022.
That’s because two days before the start of the 2022 tournament, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, confirmed a ban on alcohol in the eight stadiums hosting the World Cup.
While some fans were happy with the decision, others were confused and upset, including 21-year-old English student Arnov Paul-Choudhury.
“It’s the World Cup, it’s football, you need to be able to drink around the stadium,” Paul-Choudhury told CNN Sport in Doha on the day of the announcement. “I don’t think they’re doing the right thing to attract fans.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino disagreed, saying fans would “survive” if they couldn’t drink “three hours a day” and he was proven right on the whole.
When the World Cup started, CNN talked to many fans about the ban on alcohol and the ban on alcohol in stadiums.
“I usually have a few beers, but I think everyone else is doing that,” England fan Nick Cottrill told CNN at the FIFA Fan Festival.
“Everyone here is really happy and there’s a lot of negativity at home. It’s all working really well,” added Cottrill, who was visiting Qatar with father Gary.
One downside to not being able to drink in the stadium, the Cottrills say, is that in their experience the games are a little less raucous, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Normally, a lot of people go over the top,” Gary Cottrill told CNN. “Drinking is fine, but it’s causing trouble, it’s stopping people who come to have a bad time.”
Since Qatar was announced as the host country for the World Cup 12 years ago, the sale and consumption of alcohol has been a controversial issue.
Muslim countries are considered very conservative and strictly regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Being drunk in public is prohibited in Qatar, and those who violate this rule will be prosecuted under the law.
The British government’s travel advisory for Qatar states that drinking alcohol in public “is punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to 3,000 Qatari riyals ($824).”
Last September, Qatar announced it would allow ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beverages three hours before the start of the World Cup and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
Then, two days before the first match, FIFA confirmed that no alcohol would be sold in stadiums for the tournament’s 64 matches. Alcohol will only be served in designated fan parks and other licensed venues around Doha, FIFA said in a statement.
Some fans can drink alcohol during the game, although it is expensive. Supporters can purchase Match Hospitality packages, which range from $950 to $4,950 per game, and include a variety of services, including alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol is also available in licensed hotel restaurants and bars in the Doha area, and expats living in Qatar can purchase alcohol under a permit system recommended by the UK government.
Budweiser beer is on sale from 7pm to 1am during the FIFA Fan Fest, which is available to fans who really want to drink.
But for many of the fans who traveled thousands of miles to Qatar, the World Cup wasn’t about fueling up on alcohol.
“We’re not here for that,” Deya Banisaher, 30, a US fan, told CNN.
Banisaher arrived in Doha to follow the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) along with his partner, Mireya Jurado.
Like many, the couple said the ban on outdoor alcohol had little effect on their trip.
“We came here to watch a football match and experience the culture. The architecture is beautiful. We’re having a good time,” Jurado explained.
Qatar’s capital has a great family atmosphere where fans enjoy the city when not watching a game.
Souq Waqif in the heart of Doha is a popular place for fans and is filled with thousands of people supporting various teams. The tight spaces are often crowded, but the interaction between the supporters is always friendly.
Of course, this may still be the case if alcohol is involved, but major football matches have seen incidents of fan violence and hooliganism not previously seen in Qatar 2022.
The UEFA Euro 2020 final at Wembley was overshadowed by alcohol and drug abuse, according to a report released by the FA.
The absence of alcohol around the Qatar 2022 stadium has reduced the risk of a crowd problem turning into a major incident, one expert said.
“Imagine if you’re going to a game as a family,” Dr. Shawn Mottaleb, chief medical officer for Qatar 2022’s emergency, crisis and disaster preparedness team, told CNN.
“Are you going to be safe if you have a drunk person sitting next to you who doesn’t have a lot of control over their behavior?
“I would say that this event is not only for die-hard football fans, but for everyone. It is for everyone around the world. Everyone has the right to enjoy, everyone has the right to feel safe.”
In terms of safety and health issues, Mottaleb said he was satisfied with the tournament so far.
Crowd issues have been few and far between, and Mottaleb believes tournament organizers’ decision to ban alcohol around the stadium has as much to do with safety as cultural reasons.
“We measure the risk associated with people who are intoxicated, and the risk is increased,” he said.
“Sometimes you can have small accidents left, right and center, and these incidents can lead to what we call [snowball] impact and major events.
“So what do you do now that you know it’s risky and potentially harmful? You destroy that element.”
The World Cup ends on December 18, which means there’s plenty of time to change.
But the feeling on the ground showed that this World Cup can be played without alcohol.
It’s surprising among fans that this issue is getting so much attention at home when fans just want to see good performances on the field.
Motaleb said the next tournament across Mexico, the United States and Canada could learn from Qatar, but the reality is that a 2026 alcohol ban would be highly unlikely.