With the first match of the World Cup set to take place this Sunday, event organizers have been left scrambling due to a last minute mandate from Qatari officials. All Budweiser-branded beer tents must now be relocated from their original locations, the New York Times reports.
The decision marks the latest alcohol-related hurdle FIFA and Budweiser have had to overcome ahead of the tournament, which is set to take place in a Muslim nation for the first time in history.
Three people with knowledge of the decision — all of whom spoke with the Times anonymously — revealed that the ruling was made by members of Qatar’s royal family. It is believed that the order was given due to concerns that the heavy prominence of alcohol at the tournament would unsettle locals and give rise to potential security issues. Qatar, which is also the first Arab country to host the soccer tournament, has a strict relationship with alcohol; typically, visitors are only permitted to drink in select, tightly regulated hotel bars.
In line with the order, which Budweiser officials say they were not made aware of until late Sunday night, organizers have taken to relocating beer tents outside of eight stadiums that will be used over the course of the tournament.
The order highlights the ongoing struggle between the Qatari government and FIFA (and Budweiser by proxy)when it comes to alcohol sales. Since 1985, FIFA and Budweiser have had an ongoing partnership in which the American beer company pays $75 million for exclusive beer sales rights at the World Cup. Since Qatar’s bid for hosting the tournament was accepted in 2010, organizers have struggled with the logistics of holding up FIFA’s end of the bargain when it comes to promoting Budweiser while remaining sensitive to Qatari locals.
Qatar’s strict beer, wine, and liquor laws have contributed a number of other unexpected and unprecedented challenges ahead of the tournament. Prior issues included where and when alcohol could be sold at matches — spoiler alert: alcohol isn’t allowed inside any stadium — and what to do with anyone who overindulges — the answer: “sober zones.”
It remains unclear where exactly the Budweiser tents will be relocated to, but a spokesperson for the beer brand told the Times that they are “working with FIFA to relocate the concession outlets to locations as directed,” and their focus remains on “delivering the best possible consumer experience under the new circumstances.”
With games in the initial stages of the tournament set to air at 5 a.m., 8 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. (all Eastern Time), things are shaping up for a fairly dry World Cup all round.