Exclusive-Soccer-Qatar allows beer sales at World Cup matches 3 hours before kick-off

By Andrew Mills

DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar will allow ticketed fans to purchase alcoholic beer at World Cup soccer matches starting three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the game, a source with knowledge of plans for the tournament said .

Budweiser, a major World Cup sponsor with exclusive rights to sell beer at the tournament, will serve beer within the ticketed perimeter of each stadium, but not in the stands or inside the stadium concourse, the source said.

This year’s World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim country with strict alcohol controls, posing unique challenges for organizers at an event sponsored by a major beer brand and often associated with beer-drinking fans.

“There will be beer when the gates open, three hours before kick-off. If you want to have a beer, you can. And then when he leaves the stadium, an hour after the final whistle,” said the source.

In addition, Budweiser will be allowed to serve beer in a part of the main FIFA fan zone in central Doha every day from 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. during the 29-day tournament, which starts on November 20, the source said.

At previous World Cup tournaments, beer was served all day in the fan zones.

The decision on where and when beer will be sold to fans has now been finalized, but the price fans will pay for a beer is still being debated, the source said.

“We are working closely with FIFA, who manage relations with the Qatari authorities, to ensure our activations for the tournament are carried out respectfully and in accordance with local rules and regulations,” said a spokesman for Budweiser Brewery AB InBev in an emailed statement.

Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not respond to requests for comment on World Cup alcohol controls. Qatar’s State Media Office directed inquiries to the Supreme Committee.

Four games are scheduled on most days of the tournament’s group stage, with the earliest game kicking off at 1pm

It was not immediately clear how Qatar will handle beer sales ahead of the game between Wales and Iran at 1pm on Friday 25 November, when most of Qatar’s Muslims will gather in mosques for weekly congregational prayer.

Qatar is currently requiring most of the country’s shops and restaurants to close during Friday prayers.

The question of what role alcohol would play in this year’s World Cup has been buzzing around the question since Qatar won hosting rights in 2010. Although not a “dry” state like neighboring Saudi Arabia, drinking alcohol in public places is illegal in Qatar.

Visitors cannot bring alcohol into Qatar, even from the airport duty-free, and they cannot buy alcohol from the country’s only liquor store on the outskirts of Doha. Only foreign residents with a permit can shop there for personal use.

Visitors can drink at a few dozen licensed hotels and clubs, where a pint of beer can cost $18.

Budweiser will sell its non-alcoholic beer, Budweiser Zero, in stadium halls and booths during games and at other fan sites, the source said.

“We always respect local customs and culture in the markets where we operate or host events,” a spokesman for AB InBev told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“Our promotion and activation of Budweiser Zero during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is aimed at the international guests who come to enjoy and celebrate football on the fansites.”

(Reporting by Andrew Mills; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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