FIFA chief says fans ‘will survive’ World Cup without beer

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FIFA chief says fans 'will survive' World Cup without beer
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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino has downplayed Qatar’s last-minute ban on the sale of beer in World Cup stadiums as nothing more than a brief inconvenience for spectators.

“If this is the biggest problem we have, I will sign this (agreement),” Infantino said on Saturday, a day after the conservative Muslim emirate flip-flopped on the deal it had struck to securing the football tournament.

Infantino blamed ‘crowd flows’ in Doha for the move, although it appears to be a move by Qatar’s autocratic government aimed at placating its conservative Wahhabi citizens who have already been angered by some events around the tournament which they see as Western excesses.

Infantino said the ban on beer in stadiums was decided jointly by Qatari officials and FIFA.

“We tried all the way to see if it was possible,” Infantino said of allowing liquor sales. “If for 3 hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive. There may be a reason why in France, Spain, Scotland, alcohol is banned in stadiums. Maybe they’re smarter than us, having thought maybe we should do this.

Spectators can drink alcoholic beer in the evening at the “Fifa Fan Festival”, a designated party area that also features live music and activities. Qatar imposes strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, although its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years outside tournament-run areas.

The World Cup begins on Sunday with an opening match between host country Qatar and Ecuador, and when Qatar made its choice to host the tournament, the country agreed to FIFA’s demands for the sale alcohol in stadiums. The drinking plans were only released 11 weeks before kick-off, then changed on Friday.

According to FIFA, non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at all eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other spirits will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.

Former World Cup hosts have been asked to make concessions. For the 2014 tournament, Brazil was forced to change a law to allow the sale of alcohol in stadiums – but the same cultural issues were not at play.

AB InBev’s agreement with FIFA was renewed in 2011, after Qatar was selected as host. However, the Belgium-based brewer has faced uncertainty in recent months over the exact details of where it can serve and sell beer in Qatar.

Infantino denied that the ban on beer sales harmed FIFA’s relationship with Budweiser, its official beer sponsor.

“We have been partners for several decades, and we look forward to partnering for the future,” he said. “This particular situation has brought us even closer.”

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