Fans have been told they will not be able to buy alcohol at World Cup stadiums in Qatar with just two days to go until the tournament gets under way.
Here is the story in more detail.
Following initial reports on Thursday, Fifa confirmed less than 24 hours later that it was removing sales points for sponsor beer company Budweiser within all stadium perimeters “following discussions with host country authorities”. Alcohol will still be available at fan zones.
Why has this come about?
Reports over the weekend said members of Qatar’s royal family had asked for Budweiser stalls to be moved to less prominent locations, amid concerns over the impact of such visible drinking on local people. Away from the World Cup, the sale of alcohol is prohibited beyond upscale hotel bars. Sources close to the organising committee insisted on Friday that the concern was for the impact on fans in stadiums from Qatar, the Middle East and the wider Asian continent, for whom drinking is not part of the culture.
What have fans’ groups said?
The Football Supporters’ Association issued a statement which criticised the timing of the announcement rather than the decision itself, saying “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”.
What has Budweiser said?
Even before FIFA’s statement confirming the removal of the sales points within stadiums, the company tweeted from its official account: “Well, this is awkward.” It was later deleted, but the fact remains Budweiser pays substantial sums – reportedly more than £60m over four years – to be a Fifa top-tier sponsor and this late change is unlikely to have gone down well.
What does this say about the power dynamic between Fifa and Qatar?
To take a decision which could be so commercially damaging just two days before its showpiece event indicates the strong influence the Qatari hosts have over Fifa. The FSA added: “If (the local organisers) 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.” Fifa president Gianni Infantino will face the media on Saturday morning, and this story will now be the main topic of discussion.
Are there any other consequences?
This saga may impact how sponsors – and indeed Fifa – view future bids from the Arab world where alcohol sales are severely restricted. Saudi Arabia are reported to be interested in co-hosting the 2030 tournament.