The clownification of the World Cup continues apace. Just a few days ago we saw Qatari security guards hassling visiting journalists, seemingly more out of occupational habit than with any discernible aim in mind. Today brings news that the Qatari government has reneged on its alcohol-permissive previous promises and now will forbid the sale of beer in and around the stadiums. The Qatari World Cup devolving into a sober shitshow before it even begins. Who on Earth could have foreseen this.
The language in FIFA’s announcement of the ban is humorously neutral when you think about how fumingly angry it must be:
Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.
For any fan in attendance worried that they will be completely deprived of hoppy liquids while cheering on their lads, FIFA has good news: “There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.”
This is clearly a big bummer for fans who spent lots of money getting to Qatar with a certain set of expectations only to see at least one of those expectations radically upturned just two days before the event starts. It’s also hard not to wonder where capricious decisions like this might lead; for instance, if Qatar will say one thing but do another when it comes to alcohol, will the country uphold its already limited pre-tournament promise of safety for LGBTQ fans when the tournament officially kicks off?
And yet in spite of Qatar’s capricious decision-making, the oppressive autocracy that capriciousness represents, and the greater air of gross unfairness that permeates this ill-gotten, bloodily built World Cup, it’s worth pointing out that the real villain in this instance is FIFA itself. Banning alcohol from sporting events is itself no great travesty. Plenty of mostly non-repressive countries do it. One such country is Brazil, which has since 2003 banned the sale of alcohol at stadiums in an effort to curb violence at the events.
As with Qatar, Brazil’s beer-free laws posed a problem for FIFA in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup. Instead of honoring local cultural practices and regulations, FIFA, no doubt at the behest of major sponsor Budweiser, pressured the Brazilian government into passing a law that temporarily allowed beer sales at stadiums during the month of the World Cup. Nothing, it seemed, could stand in the way of FIFA and Budweiser sucking down every drop of that sweet sweet cash.
Overcoming the alcohol impasse has long been a point of contention between FIFA and Qatar. Clearly, the Qatari government at one point assented and let FIFA and Budweiser have their way, but has now changed its mind and reimposed its own rules. It might be tempting to see poor little FIFA and Budweiser, blindsided as they were by this decision, as yet another pair of victims of the evil Qatari government. But that is a little silly.
FIFA knew exactly what it was getting into when it sold the World Cup to Qatar—and if it didn’t know, it should’ve. (And the same goes for Budweiser.) A government willing to more or less enslave thousands of migrant workers to build the infrastructure necessary to host a World Cup is obviously a government capable of telling FIFA and Budweiser to fuck off with their beer. FIFA’s miscalculation was its own belief that avarice and public relations—the only two principles that hold sway for soccer’s governing body—would be sufficient to bend Qatar’s will, the way it did in Brazil.
But Qatar seems to take seriously the idea that it purchased the rights at this World Cup, and thus it is all theirs to do with as they see fit. This was an entirely predictable turn of events. After selling your soul to the devil, you can’t go around complaining about how mean the guy is.